“On Prayer,” Pilgrim Church UCC, Homily Outline, August 24, 2014
Philippians 4:4-7

-In college history classes, several professors enjoyed giving Blue Book finals with a list of historical events
-Concisely explain: what was the event, where and when did it occur, and most importantly why did it matter/what’s the significance of the event?
-Civil War class—couldn’t fill out all that information for the Battle of Shiloh, Antietam, and Sherman’s March to the Sea today without Google, but the method stuck!
-Will explore prayer using a modified version: what is prayer, how do we pray, and why does prayer matter?

What is prayer?
-The dictionary definition of prayer is a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God
-Just on vacation, compelled to pray at Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park because I felt thanks and awe of the place, profound quiet sunk into my soul (Anne Lamott prays: help, thanks, and wow!)
-Another way to think of prayer is simply a conversation with God; just talk to Jesus I was told as a child.
-In corporate worship, prayer tends to be more formal.  We’re expressing ourselves on behalf of the whole community.  In our private prayers, we may speak to God differently.

How do we pray?
-All religions pray: Buddhists meditate, Muslims pray five times a day, Hindus often pray at home shrines, Jews pray three times a day (Hebrew), and Christians pray corporately and privately (share The Lord’s Prayer)
-In Honduras and China, folks pray out loud simultaneously; hear Hallelujah and Gloria in the midst of prayers
-Many types of prayer in Christianity–Prayers of Invocation, Thanksgiving, Confession, Illumination, Offering and Pastoral Prayers, and Healing Prayers; Prayers unique to Communion, Baptism, Weddings, and Funerals
-You don’t recite an Offering Prayer during a Baptism; you don’t offer a Prayer for Healing in the middle of Communion–all these prayers are diverse and interesting and unique to worship and our lives
-So how do we pray?  What are we doing determines how we pray.
-Need to come up with what works for us–struggles in seminary with morning prayers, learned to pray at night while the whole world sleeps and it feels like God and me talking under the stars
-Routine matters–time and place, take deep breaths to be centered, place yourself in God’s presence, say what’s on your heart and mind, listen to the stirrings of your heart, listen for God’s guidance or enjoy being    in God’s presence in silence.

Why does prayer matter?
-Getting back to the simple definition of prayer: prayer is a conversation with God
-Imagine not speaking to someone you love and who loves you!   We need to speak to God and listen to develop that relationship, develop our Christian faith.
-Lauren Winner, in her spiritual drought she writes about in Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, reflected that without prayer, the life of the Christian dies
-She was lost and adrift and during the Easter Vigil, left in the middle to go help in the kitchen for their church’s Champagne Easter Vigil Feast.  After Communion, wondered if she should try to look like she was praying in the pew and heard, “You can stay here now.”  She writes, “Just five words, and I know that this voice is God and what God means is that there is ground beneath my feet again, that this is the beginning of sanity and steadiness, this is the beginning of a reshaped life.”[1]
-Why does prayer matter?  Being in conversation with God, talking and listening to God can reshape our lives.
-We get hung up on intercessory prayers.  When we pray for someone who’s in need or for a world in chaos like we see in Ferguson, Missouri and the Middle East and on our own border, does God answer our prayers?
-But prayer matters because it changes us.  Theologian Dorothee Soelle said, “God is not a machine that we can insert a coin into and then expect to get whatever we want.  Prayer changes the one who prays.”[2]
-Prayer helps us develop our relationship with God, keeps our faith alive, reshapes our lives, and changes us.

[1] Lauren Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, 149.
[2] Dorothee Soelle, as quoted by M. Shawn Copeland in, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, 68.