Praying in the Wilderness: The Power of Blessing 2/26/12

I am assuming in my sermon this morning and in my plans for the sermons during Lent that we are going to approve the Poverty Project in our Church Council today. Since we have so many people committed to pray about poverty already, I can hardly imagine anyone voting against it.  Really, who is going to vote against prayer?  I dare you.

Mark 1:9-15 At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. 11 Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” 12 At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. 13 For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him. 14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: 15 “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Feb. 26, 2012

Praying in the Wilderness: The Power of Blessing

So how do you pray about poverty? It seems like kind of a depressing thing to spend 2 years praying about, don’t you think? Praying about poverty sounds like watching a documentary about famine in Ethiopia. It might be worth doing, but not many people are going to choose that documentary over an escapist action film!

I guess we can agree that praying about poverty is something that’s good for you rather than a sugary treat of a prayer. We’d rather pray for ourselves – and we will get to that! Praying about poverty is not just prayer for folks in Ethiopia or Appalachia or in North Philadelphia. It indeed is praying about ourselves.

But I want to suggest that our prayer about poverty is going to start in none of those places – not in Appalachia or with ourselves, but with God.  Prayer about poverty as with every prayer, starts with God.

Every prayer starts – as does our whole worship service – with praise. How do you start your prayers? The first part of most prayer is the address: “Almighty God,” “Gracious God” “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” The first part of most any prayer is praise, a recognition of blessing at being related to the Creator of the Universe, the One who forgives and renews, the One who sustains our lives.

Poor folks generally do better at this than people who are more comfortable. Did you ever hear poor folks pray, “Thank you God! Thank you for waking me up this morning. Thank you for giving me another day of life!” Folks who don’t have as much seem to be able to focus more clearly on what really matters.  When we pray about poverty, we get to pray with that same kind of focus and clarity.

When I visited Haiti when I was 15 years old, I was shocked by how poor people could be. I had not realized before what poverty was. At the same time, I was amazed by the joy and hope of the people I met. I had trouble putting these two things together. It made a great impression on me. How could we who have so much be less hopeful and thankful than people who have next to nothing!?

We begin Lent with praise and blessing, remembering one of God’s earliest covenants with God’s creation – the covenant with Noah and every living thing in which God promises never again to destroy all of creation. In Mark we read again the story of Jesus’ baptism and God’s blessing of Jesus as God’s beloved. We read about Jesus 40 days in the wilderness- the prototype for our 40 days of prayer in the wilderness.

We go into these 40 days aware of our own baptism, aware of God’s presence with us even as we face a difficult mission or task – including the task of praying about poverty, or just taking time to pray period. The wilderness formed Jesus, facing the beasts of his life helped make him. And the same goes with us. If we take on living through the wilderness times of our lives with integrity and courage, we become better people for it.

We put our prayer in the context of our baptism, of our love and connection with the One who created us, the One who made it possible to see.  We open our eyes to the beauty of all creation, which it costs nothing to see. At the same time we open our eyes to the ways in which we destroy God’s creation, and we exploit God’s creation and that leads us to the next parts of our prayer – confession and petition.

We open our ears to the beauty of God’s creation and the gifts God has given us. We hear the wonder of music created to praise God.  At the same time we hear the voices of those crying out, pointing out the injustice of the world. Our praise of God allows to hear more deeply the beauty and the cry, to live into all parts of God’s creation.

We taste and see and feel and hear and smell the wonder of God’s world, the amazing blessing of being alive. How can we do anything but praise? And how can we help but notice God’s creation has been skewed and torn apart in ways God does not intend and that we are part of that?

So when we pray about poverty, we don’t pray from a distance. We don’t pray about people far away. We pray for ourselves. We pray for our creation. We pray for about our brokenness.  When we pray and bathe our whole prayer in praise and wonder at being part of God’s creation, we know that we are indeed blessed, deeply blessed, broken and blessed.


Responsive Hymn: 127  Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah