Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus responds to this request in two ways: first he gives his disciples a model prayer, which we’ve come to call the Lord’s Prayer and which is included in virtually every Episcopal liturgy. And second, he makes sure the God they are praying to is the real God, the generous and benevolent one he calls Father, the God revealed in Scripture. We’ll touch on both those this morning.
Now, this parish is entering into a time in which prayer is going to be very important. Prayer is always important, of course, but in the life of any spiritual community there come these transitional seasons where having people praying versus not having people praying can make a mammoth difference. As we continue to process saying farewell to this phase of Emmanuel’s life, and to look out towards the horizon for what’s coming and who’s coming, it is very important that people be praying in the way Jesus taught us and to the God about whom Jesus taught us.
If you look through the Gospel today, you see all sorts of evidence of how God desires to do his people good in response to their prayers. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God has your best interests at heart and he cares about you and your life.
However, people so often try to be more spiritual than Jesus, and raise objections like “God is supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient. Why should I pray for God to send us a good interim rector? If it’s God’s will to send a good interim rector, he can do it without my asking him.” Ah, but the chances are that what God’s will is, is to send a good interim rector in answer to your prayers. This is how God works most commonly, he works with and through his people. He wants us to ask and seek and knock, because he has chosen to confer on us the dignity of getting to cooperate with him in making his Kingdom present in the world.
Of course he’s taking a great risk in doing that, but God is no stranger to risk. He took a risk in becoming a helpless babe in a manger, he takes a risk in becoming bread in the Eucharist. The baby could have been killed. The bread can be dropped in the mud and profaned. But he takes that risk because he wants to let us experience him, right where we are.
Exact same thing with prayer. The way God has designed the universe, stuff he really wants to get done will not happen if we don’t collaborate in it – by our actions, and just as importantly by our prayers. “Ask and you will receive.” If we offer God that channel of prayer to work through, if we ask, we will receive. If we don’t – well, that was the risk he took in inventing prayer in the first place.
So as I said, over the next months, Emmanuel is entering into a time in its life where prayer is going to be very important. There are things God wants for this congregation after I’m gone in November – and I have no idea what they are, of course, that’s up to him and you. But he will only be able to do it fully if Emmanuelites both work and pray. If you just work without having that constant background music of prayer, you’ll get a pale shadow of the good things God wanted to give you.
So I want to suggest some things you might do in prayer these next several weeks. I’m going to do this cautiously, because it’s not appropriate for a priest to influence the affairs of a congregation after they leave. So I’ll just say some generic ways you could put today’s Gospel into practice in this context.
One is to pray for Lisa Kocheril. We have an excellent Senior Warden and an excellent Junior Warden, but an interim period is a time when the Senior Warden in particular will have a lot of responsibility. You could pray that God would guide her, give her energy and wisdom, provide lots of parishioners for her to delegate work to, and sort of grease the wheels for all the connections she has to make with other leaders and with the diocese and so on.
So some of you here just decide right now: my job is going to be praying for Lisa. This will take two minutes a day. You can do it at a stoplight.
Another: pray for our staff. That Mother Marisa and Deacon Chris and Mary Sievers and Fred Bahr and Nick Pothier and Tim Valentine will stay grounded and faith-filled, that they will have the resources to do anything extra they need to do to tide us over – but also the boundaries to say no to extra things people pressure them to do that they should not be doing. A search can be stressful for the current staff, and it will demand the best of them in a way no other phase of a church’s life does.
So some of you here just decide right now: my job is going to be praying for the Emmanuel staff. This will take two minutes a day. You can do it at a stoplight.
Another: pray for God to connect the parish with the right priest to serve in the interim period. That we will receive someone who has the seasoned executive capacity to guide a parish as complicated as Emmanuel through an in-between phase, who loves God and the Gospel, and who is equipped to work transparently and fruitfully with your lay and ordained leaders.
So some of you here just decide right now: my job is going to be praying for God to send us the right interim priest. This will take two minutes a day. You can do it at a stoplight.
And one more: pray for the spiritual health of the parish as a whole. Person after person has commented that what they love about Emmanuel is the sense of holiness combined with openness that they can feel here. I certainly agree with that. But now that you’re aproaching a time which is going to be a little anxious, it’s going to be very easy to let that spiritual vitality sag and to close down and turn inward. The natural reaction to the unknown and to anxiety is sort of to tighten up, to be wary. God’s not into wariness. He can’t slip as much of his Holy Spirit through tightly clenched hands as he can through open ones. And he will build your trust in him if you ask.
So this is the time to ask: God, increase our trust in you. Help us to remember everything you’ve done for us. Help us not to try to take control. Make sure we always have living in your love as a higher priority than getting our ducks in a row.
So some of you here just decide right now: my job is going to be praying for the continued spiritual vitality of the parish. This will take two minutes a day. You can do it at a stoplight.
Eventually, there will be other specific things to pray for: for the search committee, for the interviews, for the right new rector, and so on. But right now, in terms of interceding, it would be great for some of you to take on the commitment of praying every day for Lisa, for some of you to take on the commitment of praying every day for our staff, some of you to take on the commitment of praying every day for the right interim, and some of you to take on the commitment of praying every day for the parish to keep rooted in its deep spiritual life.
Don’t leave these needs to someone else. It’s not something “they” need to do, it’s something we all need to do. You choose one. Or God may have let something else specific pop into your mind during this sermon that needs to be covered in prayer. That’s his assignment to you, then, and by all means listen to him rather than to me.
So. Prayer is going to be very important for you over the next months. Jesus has assured us that God wants to give you good things in response to your prayers. And even better than that, he really wants to nourish and form you as you pray, too. You may think it’s an obligation, but you come away blessed. God knows that just praying, just being in his presence and loving him, will probably do you more good than any thing he may give you as an answer. His depths of generosity and mercy and life are always sufficient. All you have to do is ask.
And to make a right beginning of asking, let’s offer all these concerns and hopes together to our loving God in the words our Savior taught us, saying, Our Father….