- On September 26, 2021
- 0 Comments
My hope is that you have had a good week! Going forward I will send out a weekly letter that contains some announcements as well as the Scripture lessons, Music selections and the Reflection from the Sunday Worship Service. My hope is that if you are unable to be with us on Sunday – that you will feel connected. Each week, as we light the congregational candle and hold you in prayer, we hope for the day when we can all be together.
If you would like to have a pastoral visit – in person, by phone or over Zoom – please reach out and we will set a time to be meet.
We are now meeting every Sunday morning for regular worship at 10:30 am. And we will continue to do so until further notice – if public health guidance prohibits us from meeting. During worship we will follow Covid-19 protocols including keeping physical distance, not socializing inside and wearing masks during service. We also expect that anyone who is exhibiting symptoms or who has been travelling will remain home for the week.
I will continue to e-mail the Scripture lessons and Reflection each week. Additionally, I will attach links to the music that we will be using during the worship service.
Next Sunday, October 3rd we will celebrate the 188th anniversary of Knox Presbyterian Church Sixteen. Weather permitting, we will have a reception following service so that we can socialize together.
We will share in the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, October 10th. It is fitting that on the day that we celebrate Thanksgiving with gratitude for the bounty of the harvest, that we share in the meal that Jesus has prepared for us to feast upon.
In mid-October we will begin a 6-week study of the Book of James. If you are interested in participating, please send me an e-mail expressing your interest sometime this week. When we see who wishes to be engaged, we will settle on a time and place to meet. In your response, please indicate your preference to meet in person or over zoom. And, as always, if you have other questions, please let me know.
Sunday worship – September 26, 2021
638: Take time to be holy
648: I’m gonna live so God can use me
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
Matthew 6: 5-8
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Reflection: Praying – Our Disposition
As I reflected on these two readings, both of which focus on prayer, two statements jumped off the page. The first was from Matthews Gospel. “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” The second was from the Letter of James. “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
And as I reflected upon these two statements, two words held my attention. The first was “hypocrite” and the second was “righteous.” So, before we reflect upon what these passages instruct us about prayer and praying, let’s take a few minutes to consider these two words and how our understanding of these two words informs and directs who we need to be – our disposition – as we enter into prayer.
A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be someone or something that they are not and who appears to believe something that they do not. We see hypocrisy when someone says one thing and then they do another.
However, early in a relationship it is difficult to notice hypocrisy! Words are spoken. Promises are made. Plans are implemented. … Excuses are forthcoming. Over time those who are hypocritical in their words and actions tend not to be trusted. Those around them become unsure of their motives – other than to know that what they are doing or saying is for their own purpose or gain. Over time and through multiple interactions, the people around them are no longer fooled. And what Matthew points out is that God isn’t fooled either!
When you pray … do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
The second word is righteous. This is a word that I seldom hear except when I read the Bible. More often than not when I hear the word righteous it is combined with another word. Most often I hear the phrases “self-righteous” or “righteous-indignation” both of which connotate negative perceptions in today’s world. In our current vernacular, a person who is self-righteous is someone who has a bloated image of themselves as well as a positive perception of their behavior. Likewise, in our self-indulgent society righteous-indignation has come to be associated with the overreactive emotions of anger by pop-stars and politicians, as a result of perceived mistreatment, insult, or malice by another. Our society has become one that is quick to anger and demand justice, and less likely or capable to seek forgiveness or reconciliation.
I draw attention to this because, how we understand these words will affect how we understand the instruction that Matthew and James are giving concerning prayer. However, as important, how we hear and understand these words will determine who we believe that we must be – our disposition – as we enter into prayer.
When James used the word righteous, and speaks of the righteous person, he is referring to how the person is acting in alignment with God. A righteous person is someone who would be in relationship with God and would be conducing themselves in a way that is consistent with God’s will and way of being. For James, as it would have been for Matthew, a righteous person is someone who acts in a way that was consistent with the teaching of Jesus. (pause)
So, then what does this tell us about the disposition that we should hope for as we enter into prayer? And if you are sensing that our disposition needs to be other than a self-righteous hypocrite … then I think you would be on the right track. Humility is important as we enter into prayer. As is trust and the belief that God will respond to the prayers of the righteous – those who live their lives in alignment with God’s will.
But what, you may be thinking, if you are not living in a way that is not consistent with God’s will? What if at the time you decide to pray you are out of relationship with God, or at odds with your neighbors or behaving in a way that is self-serving? What then? Will God hear the prayers of the people who are not already in right relationship, but have come to a place in their lives where they acknowledge that they need help from God? And will God hear the prayers from those who, out of sheer desperation, have no where else to turn? Will God listen to these prayers and to the people who are offering them? (short pause) If you believe in a God who is merciful, reconciling, and compassionate … then you already know the answer to be yes. (pause)
So then righteous or unrighteous … God hears our prayers? Yes.
So what difference does it make then, if we live our life in a way that is righteous or not? What difference does it make if we live our lives in alignment with God’s will, if God will listen to our prayers anyway?
I’m going to suggest that it makes all the difference. But the difference isn’t with God. Rather the difference is with the person who is praying as well as the things for which they are praying. I believe that this is to what James was referring when he stated that the “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
We remember that the letter of James wasn’t a letter to a specific congregation for a particular purpose. Unlike the letters of Paul that were written to specific congregations in Corinth, or Philippi or Galatia to address specific issues within their groups, James wrote to all Christians everywhere and provided an overarching direction as to how the early Christian’s were to live and interact with the world. The first sections of the letter laid out how Christians were to live together and engage the world, and this final section described how they were to pray.
In other words what James is saying is that if someone is truly a follower of Jesus: seeing the world in the way that Jesus sees the world, acting in a way that is consistent with the way that Jesus acts, engaging with those who need inclusion, forgiveness and healing as Jesus would … then these people are righteous …. and their prayers will be powerful and effective … because they will be praying for the same things for which Jesus himself prayed!
I invite you to notice as well when James suggests that Christians should pray:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Through the joys and in the sorrows of our lives, James instructs, it is important to pray. And as individuals this is an important disposition for us to have. When we pray in times of need and in times of sorrow, as you would expect, the focus of our prayer in most often self-focused … we pray for something that we need because of our current circumstance: our health is failing, or we are dealing with the consequences of our actions.
However, when we are in the habit of praying in the good times, when we consistently offer prayers of gratitude and praise – something shifts. Our perspective begin to change, and our focus broadens to see what is occurring in the wider world. From a place of gratitude, those who are righteous, those who are disposed to see the world in the way that Jesus sees the world, and act in a way that is consistent with the way that Jesus acts, these people see and are affected by the world around them, and they are compelled to engage in a way that makes the world a more inclusive, forgiving and healing place! And James affirms that when these people pray … well, their prayers are powerful and effective! How could it be otherwise? (pause)
There is another level of James’ instruction that I believe is critically important … especially in our world today. When James wrote, those who read or listened to the letter, heard it as a member of a community. There was no such thing as a Christian who existed outside of a community. Community was how Christians engaged with each other … and it was inside a community from which they prayed.
Are any of you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
We hear in this, an instruction to be in caring relationships with one another. Those who are sick call for an elder: make your illness known. Those who are elders, pray over those who are sick and anoint them. In this congregation there are countless examples of how we are caring for those who need help … and I believe as well that we are becoming better at asking for help when we need it. This is a good thing because one of those interesting things about today’s world, is that we have been socialized to be independent – and asking for help is often interpreted as a sign of weakness.
However, it is also the thing that keeps us from being vulnerable with one another. Notice James’ next statement, as we reflect on what it would mean for us to be a Christian community who was vulnerable with one another.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
How would you feel if I suggested that we take 5 minutes to turn to the person next to you to confess your sins? Perhaps you may feel a little anxiety. And don’t worry it isn’t something that we are going to do today.
However, I do want you to notice that James is suggesting that confessing ones sins to one another and receiving forgiveness is appropriate and beneficial for a Christian community … and notice, as well, how different the expectations are in our world today. (pause)
Why is this important? Because it speaks to who we are – our disposition – as we enter into prayer as individuals, but more importantly as a Christian congregation. It provides guidance for us as we continue on our journey as Christian community. And it also instructs us how to pray … and for whom. (pause)
The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. Because the prayers of the righteous are prayed in humility and with faith – by people who live as part of a vulnerable, caring community –who are disposed to see the way that Jesus sees, and act in a way that Jesus acts – and who are compelled to engage the world in a way that makes the world a more inclusive, forgiving and healing place! Amen