May 30, 2021 Time To Pray, by Rev. Tatgenhorst
Romans 8:12-17 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Let’s take a moment to breathe. Take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out close your eyes and relax your shoulders. We listen for your word, O God.
May 30, 2021 Time to Pray
Trinity Sunday, beginning of summer
Where are you from? Who are your people? Who are you? Who do you pray for?
You have certainly noticed that I often talk about being from Cincinnati - a Midwestern white man. That perspective makes a difference for me in how I see the world. I am also a citizen of the United States and that also affects how I see things - in ways that enhance and limit my perspective.
If you are from Radnor Church or St. Luke Church you have a different perspective because you identify with that group of people. We tend to conform our thinking with a group of people important to us. It makes a difference in who you pray for and how you pray.
Think about what your broader identity is. What happens when we think about ourselves as world citizens instead of just Radnor or St. Luke folks or even as US citizens? What happens when we think of ourselves primarily as children of God? How does that effect our prayer life? We know that our perspective is still limited, but when we think that way, we may pray with more humility and more of a sense of God’s part in the prayer.
That’s why we always include in our prayers a prayer for the larger world and for our planet. Today we are particularly praying for the people of India and the people of Congo because of the raging pandemic in India and the devastating volcano in Congo. Does it make a difference for them that we pray for them? Does God not know what’s going on in those places and need to be reminded? Not really - it makes more of a difference in us, in who we understand ourselves to be as children of God.
This is part of what was going on with Paul in his letter to the Romans that Priscilla Porch read for us today. Paul was Jewish and he was a Roman citizen. As he preached to people outside Israel, he was inviting them to claim the God of Israel. His perspective kept broadening as he talked to people in different places. He couldn’t help it. His relationship with Jesus Christ and his vision through Christ kept him thinking bigger and praying bigger.
So in this passage, when Paul says “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” he is inviting them to a broader perspective, to be bigger people, caring bigger and thinking bigger. He says, “you have received a spirit of adoption,” inviting his hearers to be adopted by the God of Israel, the Jewish God, who Paul is coming to understand in new ways is the One God of all people.
He says, “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” Now I have to point out here that this is the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible, not an inclusive translation which would have referred to the Spirit as “she.” I know some people get annoyed at translations like that. We not used to calling the Spirit ‘she’ even though the Spirit was a feminine concept in the original Greek and it helps us too to break out of our tendency to think of God as male rather inclusive of male and female.
Similarly, people may object even more to the way we have come to start the Lord’s prayer with “Abba, our Father” Here in Paul from the first century, we see that this was a common way to address God in prayer. Commentators say that Paul was probably using a common formula from this time for prayer. Our use of it today may be a little jarring when we are so used to our particular formula and to hearing that “Our Father” is the way Jesus taught us to pray.
But Jesus often used the more intimate word “Abba” to address God and today it gives us too alternatives to the hierarchical and masculine address. Clearly we are not trying to dictate the way anyone prays in their own way. We are just giving all of us options to think of God in intimate, less exclusive ways. If you find it helpful, great. If not, please continue with your tradition and what works best between you and God.
Now, listen, all of this that I’m saying shows my personal bias in terms of prayer. The vast majority of people in the world do not start the Lords Prayer with “Abba God.” I also have a a kind of bias to think of God and our community in expansive ways rather than just in terms of where we are from. I think that is consistent with Paul’s message in this passage.
Paul also recognized that all human beings have local and personal biases - and that we all are limited therefore in how we pray, no matter how inclusive we try to be. He says luckily, God’s knowledge of us is prior to and greater than our knowledge of God. He says, “It is God God’s self who prays through us, when we pray to God…. that is what Spirit means.. Something in us, which is not we ourselves, intercedes before God for us.”
So really, we don’t have to think that we have to prepare to pray with the right words, or even the right disposition in order to gain a hearing from God. God’s grace elicits and activates our praying so that we can truly and freely pray. [James Kay, p. 28, Journal for Preachers, Pentecost, 2021 quoting Tillich above.]
Joanne and I struggle sometimes in how to pray with all of you. Sometimes we don’t trust our own words and thoughts. We see how some people like our friend John Pritchard and the late Ted Loder, express themselves so beautifully and powerfully. We hope that using their words we can get across their wisdom and power. All we really want is to express something that helps all of us deal with a world of struggle and sin and death. We are hoping that the prayers that come out of our mouths help all of us to get through the week - and maybe a little more, help us see a way forward when things are hard. I pray that my prayers are not just performative, but lead us as a congregation to act out our faith with radical hospitality and work for real equity.
We know that sometimes the most helpful prayer comes from our authentic selves - from exactly where we come from - from West Philadelphia, Haverford, Cincinnati - from our heart. We want you to know that you can trust the prayers of your heart too, your place, wherever you come from, however you think. It doesn’t have to be fancy or just right, because God’s grace guides us and directs us and hears the deepest meaning of our hearts. God was there to hear us at our birth and God is with us as we grow old. God hears our prayer every step of the way.
Responsive hymn. 2051 I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry