Tuesday, October 22, 2013


     Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.   And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’     — Luke 18

     I have a confession to make.   I am a techno-geek.  I love computers and the latest cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, downloading the latest useless app on my phone so I can waste time.  I’m the priest you’ll see in our staff meetings taking notes on his cell phone with a stylus, and then uploading them to Evernote so they are simultaneously on my home and church computers, and of course automatically backed up to the cloud.

     My calendar of choice is Google calendar.   I can enter a new appointment on my phone and simultaneously it’s on both my computers.  Our new associate priest and I are both kind of techie.   When we’re asked whether we need a printout of the staff calendar, we look confused and say things like, “They still make calendars on paper?” 

     But as much as I love technology, I have to admit sometimes it goes too far.  I had an appointment Tuesday I almost missed because I had entered it for the same date in 2014.  It’s so easy with my chunky little fingers to push the wrong year on my cell phone.  The good news is if you’re looking to meet with me on October 15, 2014, my calendar is wide-open.

     Another time I realized technology had gone a bit far was a couple weeks ago in the church office.   I heard a strange beep.  I looked at my computer to see if I had a new E-Mail.  I checked my calendar to see if an alarm had gone off.  Then, I checked my cell phone for notifications… nothing.   I glanced over at the other associate priest’s desk to see if it was her cell phone… nope.   Finally, I realized that beep signaled my Weight Watchers frozen lunch was ready in the microwave.

     I like Facebook and Twitter.  but I tend to only post silly things or copies of my sermons... Although I will have to tell you that I get a lot more “Likes” when I post pictures of my cats than when I post my sermons.  Facebook can be a useful communication tool I guess, but I sometimes wonder about posts some people broadcast to their friends and often the world.  Here are some odd examples:
     Thought I lost my camera last week when we were in Bermuda, then found it in a Pop Tart box.
     It is so hard to drive while looking into the setting sun.  It is even harder to Tweet while doing it; I have almost been hit 3 times.  The drivers in California are terrible.
     Just signed up to learn to be a paralegal because I love ghosts!
     While all these gadgets are terrific for keeping us in touch with our work and our families and friends, they also pare away the few remaining moments of solitary time we have left for reflection, silence, and inner quiet.  Sometimes you have to disconnect to connect.

     Today's parable of the persistent widow was told on Jesus' final trip to Jerusalem.  It says it was a parable about their need to pray and not lose heart — not God's need to hear it, but our need to have that disconnected time with the world so we can connect with God.  The persistent widow kept crying out for justice,  but the judge was unjust.  He couldn't care less what others or even God thought of him.  It says he finally decided to give her justice because the widow was wearing him out (literally in Greek, “She’s giving me a black eye!”).

     Jesus had a sense of humor.  you can see it coming through this parable.  You can almost hear his audience chuckling.  She does not seek retribution against her adversary, but only what is rightfully hers.  If such an unjust judge would grant justice, how much more God?

     So, if prayer is for us, what does it do?  Specifically what does persistent prayer do?  It’s like having a quiet, one-on-one conversation with a close friend who wants to tell you something that requires your full attention.  If you’re always online, you might miss out on this one way of relating to God.  And make no mistake, you may not be a techno-geek like me, but lots of people fill their lives with activities like soccer games, and appointments, and social events, and football games, and TV until all that chatter fills up their souls, and there is no room left for God.  Without some inner silence, it becomes harder to listen to God’s voice within. It is more difficult to hear the “small, still” sound, as the First Book of Kings described God’s voice.  “Deep calls to deep,” says Psalm 42.  But what if you can’t hear the deep? Solitude and silence also enable us to connect on a deeper level with others, for we are put in touch with the deepest part of ourselves.

     We are to pray always, but we are to pray with faith. Prayer allows the ongoing presence of God to have power over our lives and brings us into deeper relationship with God.  To persist in prayer is also to persist in believing. 

     It is said that the two most common prayers people say are, “Help me!  Help me!  Help me!”  — and — “Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!”  That’s a good start.   But I think sometimes people don’t pray more often because they worry they don’t have the right words. 

     My grandmother’s favorite Scripture was 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”  Whatever you are concerned about.   Whatever’s keeping you up nights.   Whatever broken pieces you know are clanking around inside you.   God wants to hear about them.   You don’t have to have the right words.

     And it’s okay to pray when you’re angry with God.   Job was a righteous man who honored His Creator by honestly calling God out on the tragedy he suffered.  Remember Jesus’ prayer of desperation on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It’s okay.   God’s big enough to take all the anger we can spew out... and still love us unconditionally.

     It’s wonderful to say short prayers of gratitude before you go to sleep at night, prayer and thanksgiving for all the blessings that have filled your day.

Centering Prayer
     And you can pray without words.   Just yesterday we had a workshop here at Trinity about centering prayer.  That’s the kind of prayer where you sit silently in the presence of God.   Open yourself up to the divine.  If it helps you, light a candle.   Choose a word that has special meaning for you that day, and repeat it gently in your mind over and over as you sink into God’s spirit.  Perhaps you’ll use the word “forgiveness” because you’re trying hard to forgive someone who is hurt you.  Perhaps you’ll use the word “peace” because it desperately need it in your life.

Pray while you're walking.
     You can pray by walking outside in our wonderful crisp Nevada autumn weather.   All you have to do is be intentional.  Before you go out, pray that God will open your eyes to the wonders of creation and God’s love.  Sit for a few minutes quietly after you return from your walk.   Close your eyes.   Invite the Spirit to remind you of whatever lessons you learned while walking.

     I guess what I’m saying is there is no wrong way to pray — Whatever you say or don’t say; Whether you’re feeling happy or in despair; Whether you can put words around what you need in your life or not. 

     The God who calls each of the stars in the night sky by name — The God who knows your name and loves you — will sort it out.

     The final statement in this parable seems so sad to me.  "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  This seems so sad and wistful, especially in light that this is Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem.  Just as Jesus was human and had a sense of humor, it must have been hard for him being human not to wonder sometimes:  Wonder if there would be faith like the widow's when he returned;  Wonder if there would be that persistence of faith, persistence in prayer, persistence in believing.

     It's good to spend quality time with an old friend.  This week, just for a little bit, make sure you shut down the computer, turn off the phones, and turn off the TV – you don't need to see one more Depends or Purple Pill commercial anyway, do you?  Un-Facebook yourself.   Un-Twitter yourself.   Un-Computer yourself.   Un-TV yourself, and waste some time with the God who loves you.

     I have always been convinced that the difference between Christianity that is just on the surface and Christianity that sinks deep into your bones, is based, not on how much we learn, or whether we have correct beliefs, but rather, on how often and deeply we pray.

     I won’t kid you though, prayer can also be dangerous, because it might change you.  The modern Episcopal writer Phyllis Tickle wrote:

     "Prayer is a non-locative, non-geographic space that one enters at one's own peril, for it houses God during those few moments of one's presence there, and what is there will most surely change everything that comes into it.  
     "Prayer, its opal walls polished to transparency by the centuries of hands that have touched them, is the Tabernacle realized and the wayside chapel utilized. Ever traveling as we travel, moving as we move, prayer grips like home, until the heart belongs nowhere else and the body can scarcely function apart from them both.  
     "Prayer is dangerous and the entrance way to wholeness."