A
few years ago in another parish, we had a Vacation Bible School that was pretty awesome. One of the things we did in that week was an experiment. We took a balloon filled with air that was supposed to represent us- any one of us. The balloon looked really
fun, especially when you have 100 or so kids packed tight all around you! All of the kids wanted to play with it. It did just fine by itself. But then, along come the troubles of life. That was represented in this experiment by a candle.

So
I lowered the balloon towards this candle. Suddenly, this attractive balloon, so beautiful and playful by itself, was unable to handle the pressure of being so near the heat of so much that life brings. It popped.

The
kids went wild of course.

So
the next step in this little experiment was to make another balloon. This time, the balloon had just a little bit of water poured into it. Now the balloon represented us with God’s love in us: I read the kids the script, “We don’t have to go through life
alone.” The balloon was lowered to the candle, and it did not pop. Actually, it did because I held it there too long, but the point was made: With God, we can get through much more.

I
know– we still have limits. We are still human. And we still break, even with God in our lives. But I thought the point was well taken– we do better with God.

The
world doesn’t like us to be dependent, though, does it? The lie of this world is that, “You can do it on your own” and that if you can’t do it on your own you are weak and worthless.

We
have been trained to be independent. To be able to go-it-alone. That to ask for help is shaming. That having people depend on us is powerful. But being interdependent is bad.

And
if we are not careful about the way the culture promotes that independent thinking, we can end up like the balloon filled with air: going it alone, convinced that we make or break our own destiny, that if we succeed we did it all ourselves; and if we fail
it is because we weren’t good enough. We put others, then, into those categories too– those who try- and succeed- must be really good. Those who try– and then pop or break, who can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps– must be bad. The poor and the voiceless,
therefore, are bad, because they are not successful in the world’s terms.

But
of course, that, thank God, is not the way of the Kingdom of God. And if we behave in those ways, our balloon cannot help but pop, just like in the Bible School experiment. We were just not designed to be independent.

In
today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us that prayer is necessary to help us remember how much we are not alone, how we are dependent on our Creator and the community God created for us. In order for us to stay attached to that connection, Jesus asks us to
pray that we would remember the hallowedness of God’s name, and for the kingdom of God to come so that there might be enough bread for all, where forgiveness softens anger, and where God’s love wins.

Now
that’s powerful. Imagine a world where all had enough to eat, where peace reigned supreme, and relationships blossomed in the security of God’s ever present love. Physical needs, peace, and relationships. What a kingdom. And realizing it, staying connected
to God’s dream, is part of what prayer is for.

In
my ministry, I sometimes run across folks who say that they do not pray because it doesn’t “work.” Unanswered prayer is a challenging topic. I’m not sure there is a direct answer for it. In Jesus’ model prayer in the lesson, prayer is definitely not a wish
list for our own niceties. I also don’t believe that “things happen for a reason.” Prayer is not the same as “magic” and isn’t a quick fix. I believe it can be just as important to pray to
let go
of things and people as it is to hold on or get new people and things: help me let go as he dies; help me let go as this changes and I don’t like it. Ultimately unanswered prayer is a mystery. Just as important as that mystery of unanswered prayer, though,
is how we try to keep faith in the midst of doubt– and get through times of uncertainty. How we face uncertainty is one of the central questions of faith and one that prayer is, I believe, a central part of.

We
are not alone, my friends. In fact, we cannot be alone. The most we can do even when we try to live by the world’s standards of success and accomplishment and independence, is to turn our backs so that we forget about the God who is always with us, who always
loves us, who always calls us back to relationship.

There
is a teacher who once put a piece of paper in a magazine and threw the magazine in the fire. She asked the student, “which burned first, the magazine or the paper?”

The
answer, of course, is that they burned together. The whole point of the incarnation of God into a human, into Jesus Christ, is to show us the inseparability of God from us; to show us that we cannot suffer separately from God; that God feels the pains of
this broken world, feels what we feel; that just as the magazine and the paper burn together, so God is with us when things are rough, but also celebrates when we have joy!

Prayer
is what allows and reminds us of that deep connection to our maker. It is for that reason, for our benefit and fulfillment, that Jesus tells us to pray
persistently.
A better translation is shamelessly.
He uses several examples in today’s gospel to say that no matter what the need there is nothing that should stand in our way of taking it to God.

And
that, my friends, is what allows those balloons to fill with water so that we can keep from bursting! That prayer, that communication with God, that relationship and conversation with God, is what builds and sustains our faith. That is what builds the Kingdom
of God on earth as it is in heaven. I don’t think Jesus tells this story because he thinks we are going to get a list of wishes from prayer, like the children in the gospel get from their parents by being incessant. But maybe by being shameless in our prayer
with God and completely standing naked in prayer, we may have strength sometimes even though by all accounts we should be drained. And maybe it allows us just to collapse on the bed in tears instead of putting on a false front of strength because it is what
we most need. Prayer is sharing our whole self with God in a regular practice of openness with God. Prayer is acknowledging before our creator that we are not separate from our Creator who made us and knows how many hairs are on our head. Prayer is acknowledging
that we are not alone. Prayer is acknowledging that we are not capable of being independent and allows us to remember that we were created solely for the purpose of being loved, no matter what is happening. Acknowledging that regularly allows that love to
refresh, recharge, console, and inspire us.

Prayer
can be words. Prayer can be liturgy. Prayer can be silence. Prayer can be a walk in this wonderful San Diego landscape we have been charged with safeguarding. I am Episcopalian, and while I love our liturgy and the prayer book I also find a lot of connection
through prayer without words, through nature, and not necessarily with personal devotions from the BCP. We’re all different and there isn’t just one way.

An
image of prayer that I love is the Tibetan Buddhist form of prayer called tong-len.
This means, “giving and taking” or “sending and receiving.” As with many forms of prayer, it focuses on breathing. On the inbreath, one focuses on breathing in suffering- perhaps the suffering of the planet, or the suffering of those at the border, or some
other suffering. Then, we hold that breath– just for a brief moment. And it is that brief moment that is transformative. It is that brief moment where we identify with the suffering around us– where the prayor allows him or herself to feel the pain and
suffering of the whole world as much as possible.

But
then, in this form of prayer, the prayor allows something else to happen. Using this form of prayer and appropriating it a little for the Christian tradition, I would say that as we start to exhale we focus on the light and love of Christ that is built into
us to permeate that suffering. As the same breath we took in now leaves our body, we identify with the transformed Christ who took on the suffering of the world and then rose again. So this outbreath now leaves us having entered our body, and we allow the
Christ in us to take over and heal that pain, allowing the resurrection to enter the suffering; allowing the light to pierce the darkness, allowing new life to heal the pain of death. And as the breath leaves, we allow ourselves to feel the light transforming
the suffering of the world, and we send out healing. And one breath at a time, we participate in God’s transformation of the world.

Right
now I especially like this prayer after reading the news, focusing on world events. It takes away judgement of how things
should
be, but focuses more on empathizing with what is, the suffering that is here, and directing my energy towards healing for the kingdom of God. And my actions are usually different on days I have prayed than on days I have not.

Hearing
the voice of God may not mean that voices are rolling around in our heads, although a small, still voice can be a very powerful response from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps hearing the voice of God also means that we bring to our lives and the world around us a
newfound awareness of the connectedness of all things made by the Creator, transformed by the Redeemer, and connected by the Sustainer. It means we can see where we have been blind and hear what we have not been able to hear. With payer, the door that has
been shut in our lives becomes a roadsign that helps us to discern that we are being gently prodded. When we knock the door opens,but it may not be the door we expected. Because God does answer prayer. But the answer is sometimes more frightening and life-changing
than we would like. The deepest desires of our hearts, opened to us only through the help of our Creator, may lead us into deeper waters than we are able to navigate on our own.

However
we pray, centering ourselves on our creator and our dependence on the one who first loved us allows us to bear burdens that we might otherwise never have been able to bear. It also allows us to work as the hands, feet and body of Christ to build up the Kingdom
of God, going out into the world as transformative agents to participate towards the kingdom— where all will be fed and live in peace and interdependence now and forever.


The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Proper 12C, July 28, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Luke 11:1-13

Like this post? Share it with your friends and family...

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

Leave a Comment

Thank you FOR YOUR PLEDGE!

Because of you,

WE ARE RISING TOGETHR!

Have questions or need to make changes?
Feel free to contact us, and we will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.

X