June 1, 2014
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Shera Nesheim, Diaconal Minister
Have you ever had someone pray with you, for you, out loud?
When I was in high school, I went to a church my friend Megan. Her church wasn’t Lutheran, so they did a few things a little different, and at one point the leader asked us to pray aloud for each other. I distinctly remember my intense nervousness. What the world was I going to say that was good enough, and how do you do this praying out loud thing!?! I thought God could hear my thoughts!
Megan turned to me with a huge smile, grasped my hands, and she both bowed her head (so I did too) and she offered up a really beautiful prayer, FOR me. For me. I don’t remember what she said exactly. All I know is that she said my name, asked God to walk with me, that God made me for a reason and that I was made good. For a clumsy, searching, uncertain, awkward teenager, it was a very powerful experience to have someone validate me before God.
In 2009 I had the opportunity to intern as a hospital chaplain in a major medical center in rural Missouri. I was forced to get over my fear of praying out loud for people by providing spiritual care and support for people, often during times of crisis. My heart would race when my pager buzzed to alert me of an emergency. I was invited to enter into people’s lives simply because of a name badge, and I sat with them as their lives unraveled: one young woman waiting as the clocked slowly ticked by while her father went into emergency open-heart surgery. One gentle old man who was crying in disbelief that his beloved wife of more than 50 years was unable to recognize him or call him by name. One 2nd time mom who sat alone while her husband went to care for their 4 year old, as she was too overwhelmed to weep over the death of her unborn child. That’s when I had to get over myself. In those holy moments I was called to simply listen. To hold a hand. To whisper prayers to God with them and for them as we all grasped for faith and trust in the midst of uncertainty. Nothing I could do or say could fix the situation.
Isn’t that what prayer is about? When we realize that God has been sitting there with us the whole time, and that maybe, just maybe, talking with our Creator, might draw us closer to Jesus. Maybe we cannot fix these problems on our own, but we can breathe sighs too deep for understanding and the Spirit will intercede for us. Yes indeed, prayer, like gravity, pulls us tightly to Godself, where we find comfort and peace and hope.
Praying aloud might seem scary to you, but have you ever been the one in need of prayer? Have you been the person clinging to the arm of another, desperately trying to hear the voice of Christ in the midst of the screaming sirens of chaos? Sometimes the very act of praying aloud, calms the raging storm and whispers peace into our hearts.
What might Jesus be able to teach us about praying out loud for someone in their time of need? Jesus’ life is regularly interrupted with moments of prayer. Often as we read through the gospels, we pause with Jesus as he stops to pray on mountains, alone, over dinner with friends, in a garden, on the cross…
We hear a passage today about Jesus praying out loud, for his disciples and for future believers. He prays a long prayer (it goes all the way to verse 26.) And while we can take so much from this text, today I want to simply acknowledge that Jesus is praying specifically for his beloved friends, just days before he is going to leave him, before he is arrested, before he is beaten, hung on a cross, and left to die.
This day, Jesus took just a moment, to sit with his disciples, his closest friends and followers, and he said a prayer for them. Can you imagine what a gift this was for them? The days that followed Jesus’ death were filled with such sorrow and grief, and remembering their best friend fervently praying to his Father for them probably sustained them with deep peace.
After reading through this text together, Pastor Renee asked me, “If Jesus asked to say a prayer for you, what would you ask him to pray for?”
Can you picture yourself there with the disciples that night? Gathered in a circle around food and conversation. And Jesus is praying for you. For what would YOU ask Jesus to pray for you?
I think we need to take this question seriously! Jesus is more than just a genie in a lamp! Jesus is not just there to make all your wishes and prayers come true. What if as you pray, Jesus is praying your prayers for you before his Father? What if when we pray for a friend, we beg Jesus to come into that holy moment and intercede for us with sighs too deep. It is because Jesus prays for us, that we don’t have to worry about our prayers being perfect or eloquent or finely spoken. We can stumble and fumble and sigh, and Jesus still understands the prayers of our hearts. Then we need not fear praying for others aloud.
I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, I’m wayyyyyy too German to get all emotional and say prayers out loud for someone. 😉 And I get that. Praying out loud is not for everyone, but maybe you can try it sometime. You never know how God might use you, or the other person, to reveal Christ to you in that moment of holy prayer. Instead of simply saying “I’ll pray for you.” Maybe this time you say, “Can I pray for you…” Maybe you quickly offer up a small prayer (small prayers are just as holy) to God for this person, or for their situation. Be specific and short. No need to show off. Just simply show you care. And even if praying out loud is just still too uncomfortable for you, when someone says they will pray for us, we know it comes from the heart and that they deeply care. Everyone has their own ways of praying. No matter how the prayers get delivered, we entrust those prayers are heard by God.
I just want to end today, by telling you what a powerful experience prayer is. We just spent the last two days at the synod assembly, praying in small groups around tables, praying communally together much like we do here in worship each Sunday. Prayer is powerful. We hear the voice of Christ in the prayers that our friends and neighbors offer for us. It unites us with all those who pray around the world. It unites us with those near and far, those in our communities and those as far as the Central African Republic. Together, in prayer, we are united as one in Christ. Thanks be to God.