First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: October 6, 2019
Wisdom Reading: Native American Religions, Black Elk, Sioux Tradition, Hebrews 12:1-2, 12-13
Message: “Prayer; You’re Immersed”
Native American Religions, Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
For the Great Spirit is everywhere; the Spirit hears whatever is on our minds and hearts, and it is not necessary to speak to the Spirit in a loud voice.
Hebrews 12:1-2, 12-13
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
It is that season again in the church… somewhere between Pentecost and Advent. It is that time again when churches begin to look ahead to the next year. Here at FUMC, it is that time again, Stewardship time. It is time to begin again thinking about the next year and beyond and how we have been supporting our 2019 budget and seeking to end the year strong… and … looking ahead to 2020 and at what level we will be able to support the church with our pledges.
While it is that time again… I wanted to approach this in a little different way this year…so I pondered, “What does it mean to support the church?” I was reminded of the words we use when someone joins the church, the question we all answer when we make that decision and stand here in the front and join FUMC as a full member.
They are important words for not only those who officially join the church, they are important words for those of us who are not members for whatever reason. These are important words because they need to be considered by all of us, for without support our incredible community of faith would not be able to do what we do so well.
Will you support First United Methodist Church with your Prayers, your Presence, your Service, and your Gifts? If so, say “I will.” It is an important, a crucial question for us all. So, this year we will be talking about what it means to support the church with these four areas of our journey of faith.
Today… Prayer. What does mean to pray? What does it mean to support our community of faith with our prayers? I wanted to begin back here… I remember when we came to First Church a little over a year ago for the first time. We met with the SPRC at the District Office, had lunch at Charleston’s, and then came to the church where Jane gave us the $100.00 tour. I remember the first time we came through these doors and I saw the baptismal font. I was struck! This beautiful vessel… I still am every time I come through these doors. It is common place here in our sanctuary, for some of us perhaps so much so we barely notice it anymore, others I see dip their fingers into the water and touch their forehead to remember their baptism, and I see children reach in and play in the water.
There is something about water… it cleanses us, refreshes us, it is where we began. Water…it is also what we are, we are made up primarily of water. There is something about water… when we are immersed in water, we are connected. One can feel when another passes by, the motion of the water, the displacement of that which we are immersed.
I have long believed this idea connects well to the idea of being immersed in the Spirit of the Divine, immersed in the very presence of God. There is something about water that speaks to the presence of God and to the practice of prayer. John Spong reminds us “…prayer is a direct descendant of the behavior of those first self-conscious ancestors of our humanity. Traumatized at the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.”1 Prayer, was… is something someone used to move, manipulate, cause God to act.
It is still used in this way, though perhaps not as blunt as those words might sound. Many of us pray in hopes God will hear us and intervene on our behalf. I have a friend who refers to this as employing God as a kind of “cosmic bellhop,” in its most simplistic form. However, prayer is more than this, we know that. Prayer, our understanding of prayer has evolved from that simplistic notion that all we have to do is ask and God will do it.
Frederick Buechner – Prayer – We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else’s pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else’s joy. Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing with over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves but to something even more familiar than ourselves and even more strange than the world. According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it.2 Practice! However, once again…prayer is more than this.
At the conference in Kansas City, Adam Hamilton used a phrase I have heard often… “We must put legs on our prayers.” Prayer is participatory, prayer is reciprocal with God. One does not just sit at home on the couch and pray for a job, one prays for a job and then fills out applications, does interviews, searches the job listings. One does not just pray for the hungry to be fed, one prays for the hungry to be fed, and then one goes out and feeds them. One does not just pray our leaders will begin to treat refugees at our borders humanly, one prays our leaders treat them humanely, and then one writes letters, sends funds, or goes to the border to help. One does not support a community of faith simply by praying, one prays for a community of faith and then becomes actively involved in ways that build relationship and build the community.
Back to the water… imagine if you will, being fully immersed … you can feel those around you, what you do, how you move affects them in some small way. I believe that is what it is like to be immersed in the Presence of God… I believe that is what it is like to pray for someone, for a community… being immersed in God, praying for someone or a community has a direct connection with them. A Tangible connection and presence if we are but tuned into it.
Paul Ing gave me an article sometime back about an experiment… I loaned it to a friend, I should have made a copy… however, a summary of the article was a scientist took cells from a gunner who was at Pearl Harbor, took the cells 7 miles away. They began showing the veteran pictures, and when they showed him a picture of a gunner at Pearl Harbor, his cells… 7 miles away, reacted!
There is a connection between us, we are immersed in an energy, a Spirit, the Divine, immersed in God and I believe when I remember you, or you, or you… in prayer, there creates a direct connection between us… however, even more…if we think of prayer in this way… what then isn’t a prayer? Buechner wrote, “We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not.” Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing…” perhaps we do this and do not even realize it.
The passage we read this morning from Hebrews. “We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses…” immersed in, connected by, held together, and buoyed in. In this sense… what we do, especially in regard to our community of faith, our journey of faith, in our FUMC everything we do might be considered prayer.
A smile is a prayer, a hug is a prayer, a handshake is a prayer, an encouraging word is a prayer, ushering is a prayer, singing in the choir is a prayer, teaching a faith studies class is a prayer, leading our youth is a prayer, visiting one who is sick or lonely is a prayer, mowing our huge lawn is a prayer, hosting a UMW gathering is a prayer, being involved with OTOC is a prayer, filling out a time and talent card is a prayer, discerning my level of giving for 2020 is a prayer, filling out a pledge card is a prayer, serving on a committee is a prayer, writing a check is a prayer, being here… being wherever you are is a prayer. Will you support FUMC with your prayers? I know you do, because I see it every day, perhaps in ways you had not even thought of before. This is so. Amen.
1 Spong, John Shelby, (2001) A New Christianity for a New World, Harper San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.
2 Buechner, Frederick, (1973), Wishful Thinking, A Seekers ABC, Harper San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.