What would Jesus’ prayer for us be? This past summer, we spent a great deal of time looking at the Lord’s Prayer in detail. For me, the most meaningful takeaway was that we ought to pray, and pray simply. In his model prayer, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you pray”, but “When…” And so the assumption is that we do pray. And for those of us that don’t, the most common barrier is being worried that our prayers aren’t interesting enough, or flowery enough in their prose. And so, when we peel away the centuries of tradition that have built up around this prayer, it is important to recognize what remains: a simple prayer with simple words. And that is all the model for prayer that we need.
When we pray to Jesus, the lesson is straightforward: keep it simple. But today, I want to flip the equation: what would Jesus’ prayer for us be? When Jesus looks at our lives, as individuals, as a church, what is it that Jesus desires for us?
I make no pretense to speak for God today. That’s a fool’s errand. And I make no attempt to address all that ails us. The best I can hope for is to glance off the world we live in by offering my own observations on this world. I do trust that the Spirit fills in the gap between preacher and congregation. And I trust that the still small voice within each of you will flesh out God’s desires for you in the here and now.
What would Jesus’ prayer for us be? Today, I want to touch on three things.
And the first is that we would see the Christ in others. In some ways, this is the lesson that probably undergirds all that we do as a church, and all that we do as people of God. Seeing the Christ in others is a call to compassion. It is a call to justice. It is a call to mercy and righteousness. We not only weep for the children of God that suffer; we not only reach out a hand to those who constantly live on the margins of our world; we also get angry for them, because the world can be such an unfair place.
When we learn that a close friend has been struck with an untreatable illness, or when we hear of innocents who have become casualties of war through no fault of their own, or when we see a political system that has become absurd in its theatrics and brinksmanship, our hearts break for those who suffer; and our anger rises against those who seem not to notice the result of their actions. If we ever lose sight of those who constantly live on the edge of our vision, may God have mercy on us. It was with such as these that Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry: lepers, prostitutes, murderers, children, widows, orphans. And for those of us here in Brookhaven, even though we may feel like it at times, we are rarely the ones the world has forgotten. Our own spirits are in danger if we live in a bubble with only those who are just like us.
At the same time, as hard as it may be to admit, we cannot lose sight of this: the faceless corporate CEOs whose chemicals unleash the cancers of the world, the soldiers whose bombs have taken lives they were never intended to take, the politicians who such easy fodder for mockery and revulsion, they, too, deserve the dignity of Christ within them. After all, we are not only commanded to love our neighbors, but our enemies as well. That love may take a different form, but it is still love that is required.
Underneath all of this is the fact that we need to honor the Christ within us. Loving your neighbor as yourself requires loving yourself. And so, the first prayer: see the Christ in others.
The second prayer is that we would trust in God’s abundance. So often, we seem to live our lives as though we live in fear of scarcity when the Scriptures speak most often of God’s rampant generosity. Think of the sower who goes out, casting seeds this way and that. Some fall on good soil, most don’t. Beyond the question of what makes for good soil is the fact that God has way more seeds than there is soil to receive them. It reminds me of the image of the woman walking a worn path to the well from which she draws water daily. The pot she uses is cracked; so much so that by the time she gets home, half of the water is gone. And yet, as a result, the path itself grows with the abundance of well-watered earth. There is always more than we think.
When we launched our capital campaign this Fall, the biggest question we had was, “Can we do this?” And I was one of those asking the question. In the end, not only did our stewardship look exactly the same as the past few years, but we discovered an additional $350,000 out there – so far. Not everyone can give, I know. Each of our circumstances is different. Those of us on fixed incomes and with battered savings in a rough economy are doing what we can, I know. And at the same time, as a community, we clearly underestimated the riches of God’s blessings in our midst and how much more we had to share than we ever knew.
Where else are we living practices of scarcity? Where else do we keep our lights hidden away rather than letting them illuminate our surroundings? I have often heard it said that Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church is the best-kept secret in Brookhaven. Why is it a secret? Who ever told us that we shouldn’t talk about it? This isn’t Fight Club! When it comes to Jesus, is mum the word? Are we worried that more people will water down what makes this church special? If so, then we would do well to hear this prayer again: trust in God’s abundance.
And the third prayer is that we would rest in the presence of the Spirit. Or, to say it in a less churchy way, may we get some sleep.
As silly as that might sound, and as much as you might think my subtext is how much I hate springing forward, I’m actually quite serious about this. It’s my conviction that we are a sleep-deprived society, living with all of the dis-ease and disease that this deprivation brings. Whether it’s hustling between three jobs to make ends meet, or working our fingers to the bone at the one job that expects more of us than we could ever give, we are working ourselves sick. We get up too early. We stay up too late. We go on vacation, but we still answer emails and field phone calls. We are tired. We don’t think straight. And we still don’t manage to cross off everything on our “to do” list.
Make no mistake: I’m not speaking as one who has this figured out by any stretch, but rather as a fellow struggler. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, we might not even realize it when it happens to us. Are we really trapped? Or are there choices we make that trap us: mixing up our priorities, confusing what we want with what we need, our inability to say “no”? And what example are we setting for our children? What are we expecting of them by giving them more to do in a day than is reasonable to expect? Their brains aren’t even fully formed yet. Sleep is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. It’s the way God designed our bodies so that they can heal and strengthen themselves. Even Jesus slept. Right there in the boat, even when the storm was raging, Jesus slept. Friends, the storms are always raging. We can always find a fire to put out. We can always find more to do. But God created other people, too. The fate of the world is not on your shoulders.
May we see the Christ in others; may we trust in God’s abundance; and may we rest in the presence of the Spirit. What is Jesus’ prayer for you today?