Beyond “Thoughts and Prayers”
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

October 9, 2016

Mark 9:14-29

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

It would be very easy to preach a sermon extolling us to pray more. In fact, it is perhaps the easiest of sermons, because it relies on guilt. But the truth is, I am not sure there is anyone who feels like they pray enough. Not you, not me, probably not even the Pope.

Prayer leaves us with some dissatisfaction. Take the most prayerful time you can think of, the time when you were the most prayed up. Now picture getting on the road during rush hour, or going through airport security, or trying to maneuver a shopping cart through the store when there are only 2 checkout lanes open. How quickly we fall back into our humanity. This is not all bad. One of the insights of prayer should be that we recognize that we are not God.

So instead of talking about guilt, I want to praise you, the congregation. Why? Because you DO have a prayer life. Every single one of us has a prayer life. We may not see it from the outside. Some of us are still pretty rough around the edges. But every single person here prays. And not just on Sunday, either.

I do not believe in the power of prayer. Before you walk out, let me explain.

When you are stringing your Christmas lights up in the trees in your front yard, how do you get them to light up? You grab an extension cord, right? And that extension cord holds all the power, all the juice, all the electricity that you need to light up the night with those beautiful colors, right?

No. The power cord is the connection. It connects the lights to the power in the lines, the grid, the power plant.

Prayer is the cord that connects us to the source of our energy, the source of our strength, the source of our life. Just as music does. Just as worship does. Just as service to others does.

Prayer plugs us in to the power of God.

I asked a couple of church folks, “Don’t over think it, what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word prayer.” The answers were “quiet,” and “connection.”

Sitting quietly in the presence of God is an old, old form of prayer. Julien of Norwich said, “Sometimes we need to just sit at the feet of the Lord like a cabbage.” Cabbages don’t do anything. They just sit there. On the other hand, cabbages don’t worry. They don’t react out of anxiety. They don’t project their problems onto others or defend and justify or name and blame and publically shame. They just sit.

And I know that I could use some time sitting in the presence of the Lord, with nothing but being in God’s presence as my agenda.

This is not to say that sitting in prayer, is all that we need to be doing.

How many times recently have we heard the phrase “thoughts and prayers?” “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.” “Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.” How many times have people in political office used this line as a way of looking compassionate without doing anything to fix the problems that they are so intent on thinking and praying about?

A cartoon made the rounds recently that showed a person standing on a dock on a lake next to one of those life saving rings, and another person flailing in the water. The one on the dock says, “I’m sending you thoughts and prayers.” “Help, I’m drowning!” yells the one in the water. The one on the dock gets angry, “I said THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS!”

Praying is necessary. It is required. It connects us with the source of our inspiration and creativity to see the way ahead. It connects us with the source of our strength and our wisdom to walk that road, to carry that cross, to list that burden, to be the children of God. It rescues us from despair at the enormity of the problems. It grants us hope that what we do makes a difference.

And when we cannot pray. When we have neither the patience to sit nor the words to speak, the Holy Spirit prayers with us, for us, through us, with groans and sobs and shouts and sighs too deep for our failing and flailing words.

But prayer is not enough. Frederick Douglas, escaped slave and abolitionist, wrote in his autobiography, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Let us think of prayer as one leg. Service, devotion to the wellbeing of those around us, blessing, anointing, healing, helping, doing what we can to be a part of the building up of God’s kingdom in our midst is the other leg. We cannot walk with only one leg.

When Jesus gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits and demons and all sorts of ways of healing and preaching, they thought they had all that they needed. Then they encounter a child whose problems are beyond their reckoning. They run up against something they do not know how to deal with.

So they take it to Jesus. The disciples thought they were enough. But they could not do it. The father of the son has no such pretenses. He utters those words that have been on the lips of the church ever since: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

And Jesus heals the boy.

“How?! Why couldn’t we do it?” ask the incredulous disciples.

“This requires prayer.”

So let us think on this: the amazing acts we see in Jesus, the ways that Jesus makes real the reign of God in the midst of the craziness of this world, how many times did Jesus go off by himself to pray?

Prayer is perhaps the most “small d” democratic of all spiritual practices. Everyone can do it. (In fact, it is too important to leave to the professionals!) It is simply remembering, reconnecting, giving thanks to God, and asking God to do what God does, even here, even now, even in the problems we face.

How we act as children of God requires that we pray. Prayer require us to then act like the children of God. One without the other will not walk.

For God is the source of our life, our strength, our courage, our hope, our healing, our service and our grace. And by prayer, we connect with all of that. So that we may do God’s will, as best we understand it, as best we are able, in a world so in need.

Thanks be to God. Amen.