THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Sermons from the Sabbatical: Someone’s (Always) Praying Lord
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
When someone asks, “Who is Jesus Christ?” , my mind quickly goes to the answer we give in our profession of faith… “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”… We were discussing this in our K- group, our small group, recently and other answers sounded good:
“Jesus is my friend… my example and teacher (picks up on what the disciples called him- Rabbi)…
But as I was thinking about this sermon, I realized that I cannot recall a time when someone answered: “Jesus, is a person of prayer…” Which, after doing some research for this sermon, is kind of odd… If the gospel writers knew Jesus for anything, it was that he was a person of prayer.
In Mark’s text today… before sunrise and meeting the demands of the day, the disciples find him in prayer… Luke says he would often skip away to the wilderness and pray… after a hard day of work and ministry… like feeding the five thousand, we are told that Jesus sent the crowds away… and he went up to a mountain to pray. Think about that, he would leave crowds of people… many needy people… to go to pray.
Perhaps his most famous prayers (next to the Lord’s prayer) are those he prayed on the night before he died… heart wrenching prayers… asking God to deliver him from his fate—if it was God’s will. This afternoon, just “google” , “Jesus and prayer” and you can see how often he prayed.
So, how is it we have forgotten how central prayer was to the life of Jesus? And if Jesus is our teacher and example, why is it not a priority for all Christians? Why are people so uncomfortable when asked to pray? Is it because we are out of practice?
I confess I have to work at prayer… that I tend to be a person of action and activity… and my calendar is fairly full… so it is easy to let prayer drop off the day’s activities. I like to get up and get going. Then I hear Martin Luther sharing this personal witness about prayer: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Of the many things that remain with me from my month in Israel are images and memories of people in prayer… You go into the Holy Sepulcher—the church marking the place where Jesus was crucified and buried… and you will always find a group praying… At every holy site and in every chapel throughout Israrel you will find people praying… sometimes lighting a candle and saying a prayer.
I visited a Franciscan chapel in Bethlehem where 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long… you will find a Nun praying for the world. They pray without ceasing. I find it comforting that someone is always praying for the world.
When I visited Nazareth we stayed at a convent. Across the street I saw a simple, log cabin chapel belonging to Mother Teresa’s order. I walked inside only to realize that sitting on the back row was someone praying. When he paused, he introduced himself and said his name was Gabriel (like the Angel Gabriel). I found out that Gabriel is one of many who take turns in that little chapel praying… so that someone is praying 24/7. They pray without ceasing.
Then there was the day our group went to St. George’s Monastery in the desert near Jerusalem… It was founded by Monks in the 4th century at the place where they believe the prophet Elijah lived in a cave and was fed by the ravens. But here is the thing I learned about the monks of St. George’s monastery… they are given one job and one job alone in this world… to pray. They welcome pilgrims to visit… but their only job is to pray. When they are ordained to their call, they are told they are not called to be social workers, not called to run a church… their only job is to pray… to pray at midnight, early in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. Prayer is their life. Their calling. Likely if I were to ask them the question, “Who is jesus”… they are the ones who would answer, “A person of prayer.”
So I don’t know how many Christians have come to see prayer as what often seems an extracurricular curricular activity for people of faith, something you do when you can make the time to be with God.
Since returning from Sabbatical, I have been thinking a lot about the role of prayer in the life of the Christian… leading me to wonder, how might my life be better shaped by prayer… leading me to come home and realize that I need to get my priorities straight when it comes to being a pastor to you. And to be a more faithful Christian.
I have always prayed but I cannot always say that I’ve thought of it as the first thing I should be doing… or been as disciplined as I could or should have been.
But I’ve been convicted and converted… I’m convicted and converted by the example of Jesus who was constantly at prayer… and by his disciples who asked him, “Lord, teach US to pray”… because they somehow knew this was one of the most important things they could learn.
I’m convicted and converted by the many examples of prayer I saw this summer…
I’m convicted and converted by something a dear pastor friend said in our text study group a few years ago… he said that he believes that his congregation would like it if they knew that he went into the sanctuary every day to pray for them and that this is the most important thing he could do for them as a pastor.
I’ve often wondered… do you think that of all the things I’m called to do… the meetings… the preaching… the visiting… the mission work…answering emails… I’ve wondered if you would think that prayer is more important than these?… that if you called and wanted to speak to me and Cyndi said, “He is too busy praying in the Sanctuary to come to the phone”… Would you think that was a good thing?
Or if I were to say to you, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t get to your email today…I was too busy praying”… I wonder if you would say… that’s great… it’s exactly where I want you to be? Would you say that?
I returned from sabbatical convicted that I need to be clear with myself about my priorities as a Christian and pastor… and they come in three “Ps”…
Prayer first… make that central. People second. And never let a program get in the way of people… Programs are not ends in and of themselves. We have a name for that when it happens: Idolatry. Healthy programs and ministries are a means to an end… the opportunity to be in relationship with people and to serve people. If you start serving a program and ignoring people or treating people poorly… scrap the program. If what we are doing does not increase love of God or neighbor… what’s the point?
On the last Sunday of Sabbatical that message was modeled to me by my friend Bob at FPC Goldsboro. Sharon and I went to worship there… he was preaching on the passage about being a good shepherd… with the prayer that he wanted to be a good shepherd to them. He said that one of the best things he could do was to pray for them and that he had a system for prayer… I listened hard because I like systems!
He uses a Catholic rosary to guide his prayers… Well, I don’t have a Catholic rosary but I do have beads that look like a rosary… they are beads representing the 99 names for God in the muslim faith… they were given to me by a Catholic at Tantur in Israel… so I now use these beads in the same way as Bob uses the rosary.
Here is my morning routine and the system I use. When I go to my sunroom in the morning to listen to a podcast called “pray as you go” for my contemplative prayer… That centers me to be in God’s presence. I finish that and then I read a prayer from a book of prayers… allowing the prayers of others to become my prayers. Then I turn to the beads…
The short string of beads I use like this:
- Prayer of praise to God for the day
- Prayer for Sharon
3 and 4- Prayer for Joe and Anna
Other short beads for family members – especially in need of grace…
Then I get to the longer row of beads and I pray for you… people on the prayer list… people I’ve had conversations with… people who have asked me to pray for them…I pray for the Kirk and ministries… situations in the world that have come to my attention…
The beads make me more disciplined in prayer, the practice connects me with God, which really is the point of prayer…
After Dad died we were cleaning out his house and I found a book my Mom gave Dad on Easter, 1955. She wrote, “To Joe, with all my love, Martha.” It was a book of prayers by Peter Marshall that I am now using as part of my time of prayer.
What I learned in the preface is how important prayer was to Marshall… In worship, prayer was not just another part of the worship service… it was approached with anticipation that something special was about to take place. Before he would pray he would often say this to his congregation:
“The most precious moments of our morning worship are the moments we spend with the Risen Lord. We cannot see His form, but we can feel His presence. The Lord knows all about you—your hidden perplexity, your secret shame. He waits by appointment, anxious to speak to you reassuringly, comfortingly, forgivingly. You may tell the Lord your needs now in your own way.” Then a period of silence would follow.
I bet if I asked Peter Marshall… “who is Jesus” – one of his answers would be, “a person of prayer”. May the Lord who is anxious to speak to us find us to be people of prayer… his children- ready to listen and speak to the one who loves us more than anyone… and I mean anyone (your father, mother, spouse, children) in the whole world. Nothing would please the Lord more. Amen.
Today I will close with one of Marshall’s prayers: (adapted)
O Lord, sometimes you seem so far away, as if you are a God in hiding, as if you are determined to elude all who seek you.
Yet we know that you are far more willing to be found than we are to seek. You have promised, “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” And have you not assured us that you are with us always?
Help us now to be as aware of your nearness as we are of the material things of every day. Help us to recognize your voice with as much assurance as we recognize the sounds of the world around us.
We would find you now in the privacy of our heart, in the quiet of this moment. We would know, O Lord, that you are nearer and beside us; that you love us and are interested in all that we do, and are concerned about all of our lives.
May we become aware of your companionship, of him who walks beside us.
At times when we feel forsaken, may we know the presence of the Holy Spirit who brings comfort to all human hearts when we are willing to surrender ourselves.
May we be convinced that even before we reach out to you, you are reaching out to us. These blessings, together with the unexpressed longing in our hearts, we ask in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.