Friday, June 05, 2015

Sermon, "Apple Valley Dreams: Prayerful," Luke 11:1-13

Sermon 5/31/15
Luke 11:1-13

Apple Valley Dreams: Prayerful


            For the past several weeks, we’ve been studying passages of scripture where someone has a dream which God uses to communicate a message, a call, a purpose, a plan. We thought about Jacob, beginning to open his heart to God’s dreams, and Joseph, and his dreams that were sometimes too bold and audacious for others to understand, and Solomon, who had the good sense to seek God’s wisdom before anything else, and Daniel, who wasn’t afraid to speak out even to a king who could end his life, and Mary’s Joseph, who was willing to follow God’s dream even if that dream put other players at center stage. Last week, on the day of Pentecost, we talked about God’s Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Breath, the inspiration that helped the disciples believe it was possible that they could carry out Jesus’ dream and become messengers of the good news even to the ends of the earth.
            And alongside our sermon series, many of us have been studying Mike Slaughter’s book Dare to Dream, Creating a God-Sized Mission Statement for your Life. Slaughter has encouraged us to think about what it is the God is calling us to do, that which will honor God, bless others, and bring us joy. He encourages us to get rid of all the lame excuses we come up with for not dreaming alongside God, and get to living out our dreams, using all the tools with which God has equipped us for just the purpose to which we’re called. And so now, we’re shifting gears a bit over the next month, as I begin to share with you what I think God is dreaming about for Apple Valley, what I’m dreaming about for Apple Valley. At the end of the month, as we say goodbye to Pastor Penny, she’ll leave us with her picture of what God is dreaming up for us too. And then it will be your turn: this summer, I’ll be asking you to think about sharing, in one form or another, what you think God is dreaming for your life and for our church. I want us to be dreaming, be ready, so that our summer is not a not a time of checking out of our relationship with God, but instead, letting God’s Spirit, God’s dreams, percolate within us so that they are bubbling over, overflowing, come September.
            So what am I dreaming for Apple Valley? This week, I want to talk to you about my dream, my hope, that we are a prayerful people, who engage in soul-tending practices to nourish our relationship with God. I want us to be a prayerful, spiritually-engaged congregation. Maybe that sounds boring to you, or like a not-very-big dream. We pray all the time, right? We have lots of prayer time even during each worship service. Today, we’ve already said three or four prayers. And we’re blessed, here, to have an active prayer ministry – a prayer chain, and something I particularly like: even a part of our prayer ministry that focuses on taking note, taking count, when prayers are answered, something we often forget to do! With these kinds of prayer ministry already in place, what kind of dream, then, is dreaming to be prayerful people?
            When we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, or celebrate confirmation, or receive new members into the church, we recite our membership vows, which includes this phrase: “As members of the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers.” That’s one of the vows we make in this congregation. Being a part of the body of the church and participating in its ministries – those are things we uphold in part through our prayerful relationship to God. If you’ve made the commitment of membership in this congregation, you’ve said those words. And likely, you’ve renewed them again and again. What does it mean when we say it?
My prayer life has certainly changed throughout the years. My mother likes to share the story of a time when I was very young, young enough that I hardly remember this happening myself, when she found on my night stand a letter to God that I had written in red crayon. It went like this, “Dear God, I have lots of questions. I know you have the answers. Can you please write them here?” Then I had left a big blank space, and left the red crayon for God to answer with. My mother sat down and talked with me about the different ways God talks to us, and that God might tell me things in my heart instead of on paper. But she always says she regrets telling me this – I had faith God would answer in crayon. And she wonders, if she had the same childlike faith, maybe indeed God would have written all the answers for me! When I was a bit older, later on in elementary school, and I was having a hard time with questions about God, my mother told me that I should pray by telling God about my day. I took her at her word, and did exactly that, in a very literal way. “Dear God” – always ‘Dear God’ as if I was still writing God a letter – “Dear God, today I got up and had cereal and went to school and at lunch and had recess and came home and did my homework and played outside and . . .” If I made it through this recitation, I would then do my “God blesses” – “God bless my mom and dad and Jim and TJ and Todd, God bless Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Bill and Aunt Shari and cousin Becky and Ben” – and then, if I made it through all of that, I would end with the Lord’s Prayer, because, well, we always say the Lord’s Prayer! Usually, though, I fell asleep somewhere between telling God about my day at school and telling God about my evening. But it was a daily routine that I stuck to faithfully for a long time.
Sometimes I think my prayer routines as a child were more meaningful than my adult prayer practices. When Jesus talks about prayer, he talks about persistence, and he talks about a deep and abiding trust that it is God’s good pleasure to answer our prayers. I think children live into those attributes of prayer without even trying. One of my high-school friends this week shared a story about her twin girls on facebook. She writes, "The girls were having a discussion and Brooke told Addison "I only believe what I can see." I asked Brooke if she believed in God because she can't see [God]. Her response blew me away! "Mom, look around. [God is] in every living thing. We see [God] EVERYWHERE. (as she spreads her arms around to point to the world) So of course I believe in God." Yup, out of the mouth of my 6 year old.” Jesus teaches us to pray to God with the confidence and faith of children that God hears, that God listens, that God responds.
When I dream about a prayerful Apple Valley, I dream of a congregation that knows that God listens, and that God wants to respond, when we’re ready to listen. This week Pastor Penny and Dot Reagan and Bev Fishlock and I spent time at our Upper New York Annual Conference session, our yearly business meeting. And our Bishop, Mark Webb, shared that he prays for each church in two of our twelve districts every day. That means that every week, Bishop Webb is actively praying for the ministry and people and life of Apple Valley United Methodist Church. That’s a powerful and comforting thing to know. And I feel like if the Bishop has time to pray for us that often, we have time to pray for the life of our congregation and the individual lives in it at least every week, beyond our prayer time in worship, and hopefully, each and every day. Trusting that God wants to hear from us, and believing Jesus, who urges us to persistently, again and again, bring our prayers before God, imagine what might happen if we prayed, everyday, that for God’s will to be done, for God’s dreams to unfold at Apple Valley.
In the months ahead, I plan to offer us opportunities to learn more about prayer, to be more comfortable with praying, and to spend time praying together. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we develop a lot of hang-ups about prayer. Many of you who have been in study groups or committee meetings know that I’m encouraging you to be willing to offer prayer when we gather. One small piece of my dream about a prayerful Apple Valley is that we’d have a congregation full of folks who are ready and willing and eager to share a prayer when we gather together, to offer our hearts up to God on our behalf. And I’m appreciative and proud of those of you have already been pushing yourself out of your comfort zones to do just that. One of our study groups in the year ahead will focus on prayer, and learning more about the prayer practices that have shaped our Christian faith throughout history, practices that you might find meaningful to your spiritual journey still today. Looking almost a year ahead, to Easter 2016, one of the dreams I’ve had throughout my ministry is to engage in an Easter Eve Prayer Vigil, where we would pray through the night, maybe together, maybe in shifts, and be ready to greet the Easter morning with hearts well-prepared for resurrection. I’ve been thinking about it for all of my ministry, and even before I was a pastor, actually, and have just never done it. But I think this is the time, when we’re planning for our dreams with God to come true. What would a deeply prayerful Apple Valley look like? I’m dreaming of some pretty amazing things that God can do when our lines of communication with God are wide open. I hope you will join me in seeking to become a prayerful people. “‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Thanks be to God. Amen.






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