We are Bold to Pray

The other day a young fellow came to the house to change the batteries in our pendants.  Those are the things given to us at Pilgrim Place to alert the staff should we fall and can’t get up.  Or worse yet, have an emergency medical issue.  An “incident,” as my cardiologist calls it.  The Mueller testimony was on the TV and I asked him what he thought about the revelations Mueller had to report to our nation.  He said, he doesn’t watch any news.  He said that none of our politics concerned him.  He just tunes it out.  Not his worry.

Fair enough.  I must confess that, frankly, some days I’m weary of it all as well.  The problems of our nation, our world, are just so overwhelming that I sometimes I just don’t even want to hear about it.  I want to pass over those stories in my morning newspaper.  Surely, what Mr. Mueller had to report was most distressing.  But as alarming as his findings were, what is even more distressing is the fact that the work of his office has settled nothing.  We Americans are still as divided as ever concerning the facts he and his team have reported.  And if we can’t agree on the facts, we certainly can’t agree as to their meaning.  We’re as divided as ever.  And so, we’re going to yell and scream at one another until the 2020 election?  And beyond?

When our boys were little, the remedy for antisocial behavior, for the violation of family rules, for fighting, was a “time out.”  When they were unfit for human consumption it was “chillout time.”  Fifteen minutes in the penalty box.  It’s as if our entire nation now needs a “time out.” 

In addition to the lies, to the duplicity, to a Russian attack on our elections — a thousand other civic and family tragedies have unfolded as well.  All overshadowed by the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Mueller Report.  In Los Angeles we had another mass gang shooting.  Six members of one family shot, four killed. One cannot drive down Wilshire but note the ever-increasing number of the tents of the homeless.  They’re all over McArthur Park.  Forty percent of our families are on the brink of eviction as rents skyrocket.  To boot, addicted people usually don’t have money for rent.  An emergency car repair or illness would drive many families right over the financial cliff.

Yes, we need a national time out.  A collective moment to calm ourselves, to take a deep breath and count to ten.  The words, “Let us pray,” come to mind.

Jesus’ disciples certainly must have been at their wits end from time to time, and had frequently observed our Lord at prayer.  One day, after observing him in solitude, they implored him, “As John had taught his disciples to pray, teach us to pray.”  And so he did.  “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  Thus, we received one of the most radical prayers known throughout the world.

In the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion this prayer is imbedded in the communion liturgy.  It is introduced by the words, “We are bold to say…”  But I believe it should be, “We are bold to pray!”  This is about being audacious!  In your face spirituality.

Bold?  Bold?  We Episcopalians don’t do “bold.”  We’re the quiet.  We’re the “frozen chosen.”  We mostly mumble through these familiar words on autopilot.  Not giving them or their import a thought.  And yet, this simple prayer is absolutely mind-blowing.  If one considers and takes seriously what our words actually are saying.  If one doesn’t mumble through it in a mind-numbing spiritual haze.  This prayer offers one humongous spiritual “time out.” 

The Lord’s Pray, taken to heart, is a cry from the heart and soul for a complete reordering of all that is.  It’s a plea for a far different world, where it’s not okay to lie, steal and cheat.  Where it’s not okay to sell your country out to a hostile foreign power.  It’s a cry for a world where murderous dictators are not considered “good people.” 

The Lord’s Prayer is a plea for a moment of sanity, wherein we might collect our wits.  Wherein we might recenter on what truly matters.  It is at the heart of all that church means and what we value.  It is a spiritual time out — a brief moment in even the most hellacious of weeks, to reorient our lives to what actually gives life.  Yes, that we might choose life!

In these simple words, words like “on earth as in heaven,” an entire new vista unfolds.  Time when spent with what truly matters, stands still.  Eternity opens up.  St. Paul’s words, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.”  Heaven on earth.  Now.

A clergywoman friend of mind reported to her church that recently she had had an opportunity to visit a parishioner in hospice.  Now, hospice is certainly a “time out.”  A final time out.

Sally reported that this woman was given the gift of a complete reorientation of her priorities, her values.  She shared with Sally that one day the director of the hospice facility had asked her why she thought she was still alive.  This is how the woman responded:

“God knew I needed to become a better person while I’m still on this earth.  You see, I’ve cared about peace and justice all my life, and I’ve always known God loves every human being.  But I’ve never really gotten to know anyone outside of my own circle until I needed hospice care.  Now, interacting with my caregivers, hearing stories of their lives, I’ve gotten to know them.  I know their names and the names of their families.  Now when I hear the news, I’m not at a distance anymore.  I see faces that look like, and hear names that sound like these women that I have come to know and love, and it wrenches my heart.  Through these women, God has given me one last opportunity to become more of who God wants me to be.”

That’s the sort of time out these simple but powerful words of the Lord’s prayer offer us.  Let us ever be “BOLD TO PRAY” these words.  And pay attention to their meaning.”

That hospice director’s question ought to be before each of us every morning, right up front with that cup of coffee or OJ.  “Why do we think we’re still alive?”

My friend, Fr. Paul Clasper, used to say that if we had lost almost all of scripture but had just a bit remaining, just a smidgen – the story of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Lord’s Prayer – we would have enough.  We would have enough in these few spiritual snippets to get the whole thing.  The centerpiece being the Lord’s Prayer.  It is about the entire journey of life, beginning to ending.  What this dying parishioner has been learning in her latter days – it’s all grounded in the spirituality of that short prayer.  Let us not mumble through it.  Let us be “BOLD TO PRAY.”  For forgiveness for the wrong we do, for the inbreaking of God’s new order, for our daily bread.  For everything we need to enter into eternity.  It’s all there.

You won’t get this at Rotary or at City Hall.  You won’t get this out on the golf course or in the poolhall.  You won’t get this at college or in the union hall.  You got this in church, or at your mother’s knee – where she got it from church.  This is the spiritual treasure that this frail, earthen vessel — the church — contains.  More precious than much fine gold.  And it’s not for sale.  Freely given, it is.

The time out offered by this radical prayer leads both to internal solace and to daring works of justice.  Daring, life-on-the-line, acts of justice.  The Lord’s Prayer is, as John Lewis is wont to say, a call to get in trouble, “good trouble, necessary trouble” as it did those priests and nuns led away in handcuffs this last weekend protesting the horrific conditions faced by children crammed in cages on our southern border.  Ever let us be BOLD TO PRAY, our Father who art in heaven…  And let us be bold to attend to what we are actually saying as we pray.

Every month it seems another high-ranking administration appointee is hauled before one congressional committee or another to account for incompetency, corruption, lying.  Or sent to jail.

The world continues to heat up.  Drought stalks the land.  Al Gore was right, for all the good that seems to have done us.  We seem not to have the capacity to act on what we know.  Bill McKibben, the noted climate author writes in his latest book, Falter, “…as a team of scientists pointed out recently in Nature, the physical changes we’re currently making by warming the climate will ‘extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.’”[1]

Might that we be BOLD TO PRAY…   We need a global time out.  We need a complete reorienting of our values.  Yes!  Our Father who art in heaven…restore us to our senses.

In the paper – the business section of all places – we read of the McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm to drug manufacturers.  The business model these wizards were advising their pill-pushing clients?  “Get more patients on higher doses of opioids,” and study the techniques “for keeping patients on opioids longer.”[2]  What could possibly go wrong?  Indeed!  This is definitely not the ethic they might have gotten from the Lord’s Prayer.  They didn’t learn this in Sunday school.  No, this is the sort of ethic they might have learned in most any business school.  Oh, not directly.  It would have been inhaled from the go-go ethic of the atmosphere of the place and of their fellow students.  It’s in the ethic of get it while you can.  Time’s a-wasting.

With big money in our politics, everything and everyone seems to have a price.  All is for sale.  Our democracy is so stretched beyond all recognition, to the point that would have poor Madison rolling over in his grave.  Money.  Money.  Money.  Where’s my commission?

Was Timothy Leary, the guru of my age, ultimately right?  Should we all just “Turn on. Tune in. And Drop Out”?  Don’t you sometimes find yourself in this sort of blue funk?  And a huge portion of our citizenry has tuned out.  Just like the pendant technician who came to our house the other morning.  There are days I would like to do that.  Just retire to some rural Elysian field and spend the rest of my days fishing, reading, and keeping up with friends and family. Drinking a brewski with the folks out at the farm.  Yes, “take me home, country roads.”  AND Let the country take care of itself.  But that’s not the ethic of the Lord’s Prayer.  This prayer shoves us back into the fray.   It is life-giving, not life-denying.

This simple and profound prayer recenters us in what really matters.  It recenters us in friendship and commitment.  Recenters us in truth.   It recenters us in the entire message of our Lord.  The whole enchilada!  Had McKinsey & Company grounded its ethic – had they been BOLD TO PRAY – they would have recommended a far better business plan to their drug company clients.

BOLD TO PRAY…That is the sort of prayer that might open one’s eyes to doing something about the McKinsey business plan.  It might move some to the Jesus business plan of bringing liberty to the captives of opioid addiction.  BOLD TO PRAY…it might even bring ordinary folks like you and me out to begin a rehabilitation clinic.  Clinics in West Virginia and San Bernardino.  Just saying…

This Jesus stuff could be dangerous to drug company business models.  Could put them out of business.  A time out in the spiritual penalty box.  Definitely – they’re unfit for human consumption!

Unspoken sobs, moans of the spirit, prayers through which God might move to bind up the hurt and sorrowful — prayers transcending the inexplicable, prayers ushering in the yearning of many hearts, prayers moving towards a new reality rooted “in heaven as on earth.”  Prayers awakening us to be co-creators with God, in and through the kick-ass power of the Holy Spirit.  Like the saying goes, “Without us, God won’t.  Without God, we can’t.”  It’s all there in the Lord’s Prayer.

Let us ever BE BOLD TO PRAY…  These few words of Jesus are an opening of our lives to God, that God might begin to work through our hands and feet, hearts and minds, checkbooks and datebooks.  Entering the Lord’s Prayer at its deepest level, it is ultimately not we who pray, but God praying in and through us.

What about the fallout from the Mueller Report?  What about the opioid crisis?  What about a terminally ill patient in hospice?  What about us gathered here as St. Francis’ spiritual heirs?  What about finding a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble?  Gospel trouble?  Jesus trouble?  The answer all begins with that brief, simple, and most radical prayer we all learned in Sunday school. 

Let us also BOLDLY PRAY for the comfortable – for us — that our consciences might be sorely afflicted by the Spirit of all that is holy.  Let us BOLDLY PRAY for an audacious spirituality that dares to build a House of Hope.

Let us BOLDLY PRAY for a generous spirituality that will strengthen our bond of affection that we might be up to the task.

Let us BOLDLY PRAY for a creative spirituality that will invite our neighbors to join with us in building House of Hope. 

WE ARE BOLD TO PRAY: “Our Father who art in heaven…”     Amen.

[1] Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (New York: Henry Holt, 2019), p.15-16.

[2] Walt Bogdanich, “McKinsey Had Advice on Opioids,” New York Times, July 26, 2019

Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15;
 Luke 11:1-13

Year C, Proper 12 July 28, 2019
Preached at St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

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