3-5-17 ser What Are You Praying for?

Lent is a special time of year, a time of preparation for Holy Week, a time to pay special attention to our spiritual journey. In the next six weeks, we will reflect on why and how we pray. We had a good start in our retreat this weekend. I would like to tell you a little about where we went on our retreat and take it another step in relation to Jesus’ temptation story at the beginning of his ministry. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, to be tempted by the Devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. Then the tempter approached and said “if you are the Only Begotten, command these stones to turn into bread.” Jesus replied, “Scripture has it, ‘We live not on bread alone but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.’” Next the Devil took Jesus to the Holy City, set him on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are the Only Begotten, throw yourself down.  Scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you, with their hands they will support you that you may never stumble on a stone.’” Jesus answered, “Scripture also says, ‘Do not put God to the test.’” The Devil then took Jesus up a very high mountain and displayed all the dominions of the world in their magnificence, promising, “All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to the Devil, “Away with you, Satan!  Scripture says, ‘You will worship the Most High God, God alone will you adore.’” At that the Devil left, and angels came and attended Jesus.

March 5, 2017

What are You Praying For: Testing

On the retreat this weekend, we did a lot of praying. We made this chain of prayers, each color representing a different kind of prayer.

We put prayers on sticky notes and stuck them to the cross. We tied knots representing worries and fears, and other people untied them in prayer. We wrote down our doubts on a mirror, and looking at ourself, prayed our fears and doubts away.

We used Scrabble tiles to spell out our prayers of what we are grateful for.


On Ash Wednesday, Mindy and I went over to Bryn Mawr train station and offered ashes for people that might have missed church that day. In the service that night, we built this little altar next to the cross – an altar with a candle in the middle of stones and twigs.

We took the stones from the Ebenezers on the side windows of our sanctuary – those direction markers that we built a while ago. Each of these stones, I like to think has a prayer in it for the spiritual journeys of our lives. You may add or take away stones during the Lenten season as you feel the Spirit moving in your journey. On the retreat, we wrote on some stones to represent some of our prayers. Those stones become part of our foundation for our prayer life this season, as well. The twigs add a little chaos to an already unruly altar. The twigs represent a bit of the wilderness, on our journey.


Today, we begin by noticing how Jesus dealt with temptation in the wilderness. First of all, I want us to notice the set up. The story is that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer. That’s like if we fasted from now until Easter, April 16th! We have trouble imagining going without television or our smart phone or fast food for a few days, let alone going without them for 40 days, let alone going without food for 40 days, let alone changing our lives to allow for a deep prayer commitment for 40 days!

When Jesus comes out of the wilderness, the reading says that he was hungry – (duh!). He was hungry and the tempter comes and suggests that he turn a stone into bread, so that he could have something to eat. Well, this was right in line with his mission, to feed the hungry, to show that God has compassion for people who need something to eat.

The tempter continues to tempt Jesus to prove he is the Messiah, to take power over the world, to be the world saver, King and ruler that the people are expecting and desperate for. Jesus rebuffs the tempter each time, refusing to follow yesterday’s Word of God rather than the demands of today, refusing to do good when he could live into what is best. He knows this because he practiced contemplative prayer, connecting with God’s powerful presence and direction.


We however, fall into the temptation so often. We justify our busy-ness, our lack of time for prayer – we act as though we are the most important people in the world, like what we are doing shows how compassionate or productive or helpful we are – that we have to answer our e-mail or our phone every 10 minutes, that we have to do work at home or in bed or on Friday night. My work is more important than your work.

Or maybe we feel like the least important people in the world, and that we need to fill up our time with whatever is at hand – endless games of solitaire or hearts on the computer, or mindless TV shows to make the time go by until the next meal.

Either way, we are selling ourselves short, distorting God’s present reality and love. Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness, deepening his prayer life, depending solely on God, becoming who God called him to be. We are going to spend our next 40 days in our wilderness journeys, learning deeper ways of praying and different reasons for prayer.

The reason to pray, we discussed this weekend, is to reach for a different way of seeing the world, a different kind of consciousness. We pray so that we can get past our own dualistic thinking, our own us & them, our own judgmental ways, our own dividing everything into mine & yours, body & mind, black & white, sinner & saint, us & them. Prayer allows the world to be more complicated than our usual dividing everything in two.

Three aspects of our life together are essential to our spiritual development. 1. we need a practice, some form of prayer life; 2. we need teaching, Scripture, theology to give us direction and a path; and 3. we need a spiritual community, a place to practice growing in love for life.

Many of us in the church have thought we can get by with only one or two of these. We think, ‘Oh, I don’t really know how to pray or have time to pray. It doesn’t really do anything anyway.’ But this kind of thinking leads to a dry, ineffectual kind of faith. It doesn’t move us or connect us. We think prayer is a private, isolated thing, but actually prayer leads us to spiritual community, the testing ground, where we grow in love for life, service and faithfulness. Private or individual prayer is no prayer at all, because prayer is precisely plugging into a shared field of knowing, and loving, living.

As we come to the table this morning, as we shared communion yesterday in our retreat, I invite us to dedicate ourselves to a deeper level of prayer, of community, and of study together during this Lenten season. God will be present with us in ways that we had not anticipated, in a deeper joy and satisfaction, stronger health, and more supportive community.