Pray Without Ceasing


The Pas Proper / Ordinary 27 – Pentecost + 20 – Trinity + 19
Thanksgiving Sunday – Year B
7 October 2018

Joel 2:21-27
Psalm 126
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Matthew 6:25-33

God of evolving diversity,
made known in seed and soil,
and in the wonder of animal worlds:
free our hearts from anxiety
and open them to learn from the life
which surrounds us;
through Jesus Christ, the Lord of the harvest. Amen.

I was looking at the readings, for today, and having just come off a week with some great connections with fellow clergy, where our focus was on the liturgy, and how it has evolved from the early days of the church, through the two books we currently use, the reading from 1 Timothy, I thought was quite moving.

The letter to Timothy, from Paul, is full of great advice, advice that we are still able to follow today; and what I really find interesting is how reluctant we are to pray.

Now, I’m hoping that we’re just reluctant to pray in public, where others can actually see our lips moving and hear, hopefully hear, the words that are coming from our mouths?

So many of us think that prayer is difficult, but if we really, truly think about it, prayer is no more difficult than breathing. Prayer is no more difficult than having a conversation with a good friend, than complaining to a family member.

Martin Luther tells us to pray at all times, to pray without ceasing. At the same time, prayer doesn’t have to be verbal. We can pray in our actions, in serving our neighbour, and those in need.

And as much as we look around, often with a tinge of panic, and try to find someone to foist our prayers onto, its perhaps like going to the doctor and dragging a stranger in with you to express where it hurts to the doctor. It comes best from ourselves where we can say yes, this hurts when I do that.

But if we look at Paul’s words to Timothy, today, Paul gives him, gives each of us some great advice about prayer, and about it’s place, as believers, as followers of Christ, as Christians in our society.

Paul says: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” (1 Tim 2:1)

For all people. This is important as we wish to pray for those we like, for those we love, but forget or leave out the prayer for the stranger, for those we don’t like, and for situations where justice needs to be brought to the forefront.

And this is important. Paul is telling us of the necessity to pray, not just for ourselves and our needs, which are also important, but to pray for those in our lives, those who have the ability to direct our lives, those with whom we associate, and even and especially to pray for those who we don’t like, or may not like.

So, maybe what bothers us is the idea of being ‘caught out’ in public prayer? But there are examples of public prayer, prayer not by Jesus that can also each us what the world needs, what our fellows in Christ, in creation also need.

When Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both praying, and the Pharisee’s prayer is that he gives thanks that he is not like the other man, the man who sins, who knows his own limits, and who knows his faults before God. Yet they are praying, and in a public space. Not together, nor for each other, that we know of, but they both enter into the others prayer, in the end. (Lk 18:9-14)

Or when Jesus teaches us about prayer, not only does he teach us the Lord’s Prayer, but he tells us to be like a friend who is willing to wake a whole neighbourhood, in the middle of the night, with the fervency of our prayers, in order to be able to fulfill the needs of unexpected guests.

We are encouraged to be like the one who is willing to put his own dignity on the line to be able to provide for those who have come to him, and they have needs. (Lk 11:1-13)

Yet we are reluctant to pray in public. We’re reluctant to be known as people who pray, not just for ourselves, but for others and for their needs.

But at the same time, Paul is still urging us to pray for all people. “For kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:2-4)

So, perhaps, what Luke’s gospel is getting at is that we need to pray. But at the same time we don’t walk around with a great neon hat that states “professional prayer person!”

Rather, in Paul’s words, today, we, along with Timothy are being urged to earnest, heartfelt prayer. To petitions, prayers and thanksgiving to benefit the whole of creation, not just our little corner of it.

And this week this is a most important reminder, as we sit down to grand feasts with family; as we cozy up with a drumstick in one hand and pumpkin pie close to the other.

As we give thanks for God’s bounty in life, as we give thanks for friends and family who surround us, as we give thanks for God who sent his son to show us the way to salvation so that we may one day feast in God’s kingdom.

So, then, its not the need for prayer that we publicly shy away from, but rather the idea that as followers of Christ. We shy away from the possibility that we might be called upon to share our faith in prayer, with strangers openly, and out loud, with those who are, likewise seeking the love of God, and we may feel unequal to the task they set before us?

Perhaps we feel that we are uncomfortable with living out our faith to the world around us. But I have t say, it has some advantages. Fr. Martin Brokenleg once said that he was taking a bus trip from Vancouver, and he said that after he boarded the bus, he remembered that he’d not completed the Office of Morning Prayer, so he opened his prayer book, and for some reason people refused to sit in the empty seat next to him for the entire journey.

Now, I know that this may be a little far fetched, but at the same time, it provides us with the idea that the world is and has always been as uncomfortable with our faith lived out in the world as we are called to live it out loud.

This doesn’t mean that we run around with bells and loud speakers and declare our prayers for the community, for those in charge, for our elected and appointed leaders from the tops of buildings, but it does mean that we do pray for them. We include them in our lives of faith, and in our actions.

There are those who like to walk through the community and pray for this event that took place here, or that event that took place there, and pray for better outcomes than these events in the future.

There are those who gather after a disaster, like the gatherings on the Danforth, in Toronto, after the unfortunate shooting that took place late in the summer. Or those who have died in the recent earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, where as of Saturday, the officials were contemplating a mass grave for those who died in such natural disasters, and the likelihood of further victims found alive is dwindling.

There are those who gather in the comfort and privacy of their homes and pray for those who are in need of prayer, not only in our community, but around the world.

Perhaps, we need to get away from the idea that prayer, in general, is scary. After all we teach our children to pray at meals, and at bedtime. We teach them the “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

We teach them the Lord’s Prayer, we teach them to talk to God, not just for their own needs, or our own needs, but for the needs of the world, of the community, of the church, of the schools, … and the list can, and does, go on, and on, and on.

We can pray in our actions, we can pray in our intentions, we can pray in our frustrations, and in our joys. Luther says to pray at tall times, to pray without ceasing.

So, Perhaps what we’re seeing in Paul’s words to Timothy, and to each one of us, today, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, as we gather with our friends and families is that everything, from our lives, to our friends, to our families, to the bounties that will grace our dining tables, is all a gift from God.

Yes, we went out and we acquired the fruits and vegetables, the turkeys, but God made the fruits, and the vegetables, and the birds. God gives us the talents and skills that we’ve used to both acquire these goods, and to turn them into an aromatic and tantalizing edible feast.

God gives us the ability, and the talents to make a home, to be able to provide for our lives, and for our families.

God gives us the love that holds us together, and this gift is renewed each day.

And we are being asked to give thanks for that love, of those talents, for those who are given to us to love and appreciate, to learn from and to learn with in life.

God asks us to say thank you for the ability to live in peace, and for those who are tasked with ensuring that peace continues in this part of the world.

We are also asked to pray for those who do not live in peace, who are not assured that the night will be one of comfort and rest, of renewal, yet they’re able to give thanks that they see the dawns light, and the promise of a new day.

I once read an account of a woman who observed a Syrian refugee family on a city bus, in Calgary. This family was just learning how to navigate the transit system, and as they were also learning the language, they had an interpreter with them.

At one point, on the bus ride, a nearby vehicle, in Calgary’s traffic backfired. All at once, the mother of the family, without thinking, threw herself on her children, to protect them from this unknown threat to their safety.

Can we even imagine what kind of experiences have led her to be that aware of her surroundings and the fact that a backfiring vehicle can be a threat to her children and their lives?

Now in the meantime, she’s come to a place of peace where, not everything is perfect, but we’re not actively engaged in armed conflict between groups.

So, perhaps, this weekend, this account, this text from Paul to Timothy will encourage us to continue to give thanks for their efforts, whether its in the comfort of our homes, gathered around our dining tables, or amongst strangers who ask us to pray because, in their need, they cannot find the words, themselves.

Throughout, Paul is still there still encouraging, still saying “I urge, then first of all petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.”

And that includes each of us here, as well as all of those who have not yet found the courage to come to God, whether its with us, or with another faith tradition. Because “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (1 Tim 2: 1, 5-6a)

And that is a pretty good place to start, perhaps even to finish our prayers for the whole of the world, every day.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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