When I was a child growing up in the Salinas Valley, California, every time I went to the refrigerator, I was confronted by a magnet motto affixed to the door that announced –“prayer changes things.” As a child, I was more interested in milk and cookies than prayer, but as the years go by I have come to realize that my mom was right, “prayer changes things.”
Our scriptures challenge us to frame our lives in terms of prayerful living. James invites the early Christian communities to pray about everything. If you’re happy, give thanks. If you’re depressed, take it to God in prayer. If you have a troubled conscience, confess your sins, accept God’s forgiveness and get on with your life. James believes that God answers prayer. God wants us to have abundant life and our prayers enable God to heal bodies, minds, and spirits. Pray about small decisions and large challenges, for God is as near as your next breath.
James believes that prayer can help us face sickness and death, and discover a way forward when the future looks like a dead end.
Today, scientists are studying the sacred. Some studies suggest that our prayers can actually change the course of illness, enhance recovery following surgery, and promote overall well-being. No one knows how prayer works, but it seems that prayer creates a healing field of force around those for whom we pray and ourselves when we pray for our own well-being. While the scientific method can’t discover God in a laboratory or under a microscope, prayer may be an open door to greater manifestations of God’s love in our lives, changing cells as well as souls.
There is a joke about politics in Chicago. On election day, the faithful are invited to vote early and often. Surely the same counsel applies to prayer….
As the apostle Paul counsels, pray without ceasing. Let every breath be prayerful. Pray always and often and about everything that comes up, big and small, in the course of your day.
I know that I need pray to stay centered on God in my family life and pastoral ministry. I want to be worthy of my calling. So every morning as many of you know, when I glimpse the church steeple on my way back from Covell’s Beach, I pray for our church – that it be a place of joy, healing, transformation….I pray that I make the right decisions as pastor…and I pray for you and for everyone that enters our building.
There is no prayer manual that fits everyone. As one sage asserted, “pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Author Anne Lamott sees our prayers as involving the trinity of “help, wow, and thanks.”
Eight years ago, when my son was diagnosed with a rare cancer, I didn’t have any words for prayer. Walking around Georgetown University where he was hospitalized, all I could stammer was “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” When the treatments began to work and hope was on the way, my prayer of thanksgiving was the hymn, great is thy faithfulness….
Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand has provided
Great is thy faithfulness, God unto me
I am sure these prayers were answered. God was at work in skilled physicians and nurses, chemotherapy, reiki healing touch, our own spirituality and the prayers of others, and the proof is our two young miracle boys, one absolutely unexpected; the other through the wonders of science. They are the wow and wonder in my life.
This is the point of the passage from Mark. Someone outside the disciples’ in-group was casting out demons and they stop him. They expect Jesus to be the arbiter of orthodoxy and congratulate them for keeping the faith pure, but he challenges their narrow understanding of truth: Don’t limit the means of grace. God is at work everywhere and anyone who seeks healing and truth is doing God’s work, even if they don’t mention my name.
There is healing and salvation outside the church. Outsiders can have gifts. Don’t quench God’s spirit. God’s healing touch is at work in a Hindu physician, a Muslim nurse, an agnostic counselor. God is at work in our prayers, in reiki healing touch, in laying on of hands, and a kind word and good hug.
Here’s where stewardship fits in. No matter how small, God’s gifts emerge wherever kindness is shown and wherever we seek to follow the Way of Jesus. You can always do something beautiful for God – your time with a child can change her life, your presence with a dying friend can give him a sense of eternity, your small gifts can provide a good life for a child at Angel’s place, and so we are called welcome Scouts and 12 step groups to our congregation, and make our own church a beacon for healing and wholeness, a place where all are pilgrims but none are strangers.
Right now, our church kids and a handful of adults are praying with their hands: they are learning to love the earth, and God is using them to heal to the earth. They are learning to be stewards of life.
What you do matters – your small gift and talent can change the world. This is the meaning of stewardship: give what you have to help others. Give what you can to bring joy to a child; give what you can to let the light of Christ shine, locally through our church and globally in our mission.
So today, pray about everything. Pray about how you can bless others with your gifts. Pray about making the next right decision, and then another one. Pray for the church staff and your pastor, and pray that God will make you, as St. Francis says, an instrument of God’s peace….and every day will be an adventure and every hour a blessing.