The other day, a parishioner said to me that he wants to “walk in the light” but it’s just so darned dark right now! Political chaos, storms, fires and explosions…He just has a hard time maintaining a sense of positivity. He doesn’t know where to look for hope.
I hear him. I feel the same way sometimes, especially when I have to stand here and preach the Good News based on readings like the ones today: how easily our tongues—the things we say—get us into trouble; Jesus calling Peter Satan and then saying that his true path is one of suffering and death on the cross…oh, and that if we want to be his followers we have to willingly take up that same path.
It’s not easy stuff. But that’s kind of the point.
Sunshine Christians are not much help in the middle of the hurricane. People who say, “Oh, if I just pray hard enough, believe hard enough, nothing bad will happen to me” are only living half a life. Faith is what gets us through the dark days—faith that the rain will stop, the waters will recede. The fires will be put out and the cause of the explosions found and repaired. Faith that the truth is more powerful than a lie, and will be revealed, sooner or later.
That doesn’t mean that we ignore the pain and the suffering and destruction. If anything, it means we get more deeply involved in the clean-up and restoration. That doesn’t mean we all need to pack up the car and drive to the Carolinas—or even to Lawrence, MA—and start clearing rubble. It means we help whatever way we can. That might mean making a donation to Lutheran Disaster Relief or Episcopal Relief and Development. It might mean contacting your representatives in government to demand appropriate and helpful response in the weeks, months and years to come. It might mean opening yourself up to help others carry their grief and sorrow and confusion.
It definitely means prayer. Lots of prayer.
But let’s be clear what we’re doing when we’re praying. We can certainly spend some of our time of prayer asking God to miraculously redirect the storm, repair the gas lines, change the hearts of those making decisions that affect us all. But there’s more to it. We also need to pray that God redirect our energy, repair the brokenness in each of us, change our hearts.
God isn’t a vending machine that will provide us with what we want as long as we enter the right kind or currency of prayer. It just doesn’t work that way.
The purpose of prayer is to allow God to work in and through us, offering us strength and hope when we need it, challenging us to open our hearts and minds wider than is comfortable, igniting our imaginations and empowering our wills.
Prayer is not just kneeling quietly in a corner, either. When you remember to bring something for the food pantry to feed a hungry stranger, that’s a prayer. When you visit a shut-in or someone in the hospital, that’s a prayer. When you watch the news and feel your heart break at the suffering you are seeing—that’s a prayer! If you were heartless and cold, you would feel nothing. That’s the love of God moving you to compassion for people you will never meet.
So rather than spend a lot of time dissecting and reflecting upon these words from James about how much trouble we can get into because of the things we say, I’m going to invite us to put our tongues to good use, and spend the next few minutes praying together.
To start, I want you to take a deep breath and imagine that you are drawing in the light of Christ. Feel it fill you up with each inhale. As you breathe out—slowly!—imagine you are releasing that light back out into every dark corner of this world. Breathe in, be filled up. Now breathe out and it spreading out over Northern Massachusetts where explosions have rocked neighborhoods. Breathe in…and as you exhale imagine God’s Spirit breathing over the people whose lives have been devastated by hurricanes, lifting up their heads and showing them a glimmer of light, a glimmer of hope.
Breathe in…and as you breathe out, offer your own prayers for this country and the whole world.
Breathe in the light of God…
Breathe in the love of God…
Breathe in the power of God…
Prayer only changes things if it changes us. Prayer requires both a receiving and a giving. To do otherwise is to be like a child having a temper tantrum holding her breath, thinking it’ll get her what she wants. So when you are feeling overwhelmed by the sorrow, stop, take in a deep breath, and open yourself to being filled with the light of Christ. Then watch and listen for the opportunity breathe it back out to the world in whatever way you can.