It is early in the morning. Jesus has gone off to a secluded place to pray. Yesterday had been a difficult and tiring day. Jesus had just started his ministry when he went with Peter and the other disciples to heal Peter’s mother-in-law. When word spread of the healing her home was filled with people who were sick and desired to be healed. Jesus healed folk well into the night.
Now it is early in the morning and Jesus has gotten up and gone to a secluded place to pray. Prayer is a regular part of his life. Jesus prays before any big decision. Jesus prays for others, especially as they are preparing to face frightening challenges. The night before Jesus went to the Cross he prayed for his disciples of all time. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for himself and ended his prayer: “Father let this cup pass from me; but nevertheless; not my will but yours be done.”
So, we know that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was in deep relationship with his father, “The monarch of the universe.” And that relationship remained deep and close because Jesus regularly prayed.
Knowing how busy a day can get I suggest we all stop to communicate with God before we do anything in a day. My best time is when I am in the bathroom, especially the shower. No one can interrupt me there unless the house is on fire.
But just like many a parent when they get up early in the morning to pray, their children are soon coming to them with their needs. And so, it was with the disciples. “Everyone has been looking for you.”
It was then that Jesus told them it was time to leave Simon’s mother-in-law’s home to move on to the neighboring towns. I came to proclaim the Kingdom of God is here to all the children of Israel.
Prayer is one of the central pillars of Christianity. When I taught Confirmation Classes, I would us the acrostic; ACTS.
Every prayer needs to contain these elements. A represents Adoration. If you are ever wondering how to offer adoration, recite a few words from Handel’s “Messiah” “… For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, alleluia.”
C represents confession. I believe confession is more than confessing our misdeeds. I see confession as self-examination. Take an honest searching appraisal of your life before God who knows all about you and still loves you as a parent loves their child. When you know that you are loved no matter what, it is easier to come clean about the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is also the first step with God’s help to change your life for the better.
T for Thanksgiving. This morning I am thankful for my wife Gracie, a warm, house, a hot shower, and a great breakfast. I could go on and on. What aspects of your life cause you to offer thanksgiving?
Supplication. Whatever prayer requests you have for yourself and others fit into this category. I like a phrase Pastor Jay Hilbinger uses between petitions in the Prayers of the Church: “Lord of the journey; show the way.”
In this story there are three parts I would like us to remember when we pray. The first is to pick a special time early, every day to have a dialogue with God. Please do this before you do anything else. It is far too easy to dive into the day’s challenges instead of first seeking the Lord’s direction.
The second is so often forgotten. Far too often people treat prayer dialogue like you have with a waiter when you go into a restaurant. You order. If you like the service, you will give the waiter a tip. In church it is their offering.
For years I would have a retreat early in January with parish leaders when I served a congregation. To review last year’s ministry and envision what this year’s ministry might look like I would ask the group to pick three things and write them down on a piece of paper that we did as a church they particularly liked last year. Secondly, I would ask them to pick three things they would like to see the congregation do this year. I then would pass a basket around to collect the responses. I then would read them aloud as a member of a group wrote down the answers. Our planning was based on what we discovered from this exercise.
One year as I was getting ready to lead the retreat my wife asked me if I was going to use the same old tired questions this year. I asked what she meant, and she said, “How about asking the group to ponder what were three things our congregation did last year that God liked. And then do the same with this year. What three things God would like our congregation to do? I also asked the leaders to pray on these questions before we met. I was amazed at the difference in depth in the responses.
There is another aspect of prayer that has come to mean a great deal to me in recent years. It is called “contemplative prayer.” The idea is to set a timer for at least 10 minutes. I find the timer on my phone works best. Then I sit myself down in a comfortable chair, close my eyes, clear my mind of all thoughts and just listen. Do everything to stop your own thoughts. There is a phrase I use that helps me when my mind begins to wander. “Be still and know that I am God.” Every so often you will get a thought or an inkling that could well be from God. To do this requires a quiet place and the discipline of keeping your mind clear. Don’t give up. Telling you what to do is the easy part. Doing it takes great discipline and practice with eventually great rewards in encountering the Holy.
Prayer is a central discipline of the Christian life. The Lord’s prayer is a great place to start as an outline of the words you might speak. Daily discipline, and daily seeking God’s will be central. But if you do the rewards of a deepened relationship with God will come. Amen.
Sermon on February 7, 2021, by The Rev. Bernard Hess for Saint Michael Lutheran Church.