Friday, September 24, 2010

Sermon for September 26, Proper 21: Prayer is Asking for Help

You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
Buf if you try sometime, you find
You get what you need.
(The Glitter Twins)
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
This is the only parable in which Jesus gives a character a name, so the name of the beggar is a key to the parable. What "Lazarus" means is "God helps."
At the beginning of the parable the rich man doesn’t think he needs God’s help, because his life is just fine. At the end of the parable he’s asking Lazarus to be sent back to help his brothers who are just like he was. Abraham answers that sending him back will not help them. They want to be blind. They want to be deaf to the words of Moses. They want to be self-indulgent and self-satisfied.

The parable has play in it—the rich man was being helped by Lazarus all along, just by lying at his door, just by his painful presence, he was offering the rich man a chance to be caring and kindly and generous. He was giving the rich man the chance to practice what Moses said about helping the needy and the poor. Lazarus was helping the rich man to be righteous and godly and faithful and loving and patient and gentle. But the rich man refused the help.
(You know we’ve been praying in this church for passionate spirituality. I wonder if God has answered our prayer by sending us Joe and Lacey. We cannot help them except by practicing passionate spirituality.)

What kind of help do you want from God? What kind of help do you pray for? It is right for you to ask for ordinary kinds of help. Jesus tells you this, in the Lord’s Prayer—you pray for your daily bread and you pray that God will save you from the time of trial. And when you pray Psalm 91, you pray for rescue and deliverance, you pray for safety in time of trouble. And in the Psalm God promises that, "When they call to me I will answer them."

People have been praying for help to the gods and goddesses since our evolution from the other primates. Help us when we hunt for meat. Help us when we plant our crops and harvest them. Help us in childbirth, help us in sickness, and help us when we die. The prayer for help is the most basic kind of prayer there is. You should do it. And the kind of help you pray for depends on the kinds of gods or goddesses you believe in.

The God we believe in is the God of Israel. The God we believe in is a covenantal God. A covenantal God is a God of faithful relationships, a God of promises, a God who talks to us, to everyone of us. The talk of God is recorded in the Bible, for the purpose that everyone of us can know what God says equally and publically. And what God has said is how God helps us. God helps us in many subtle ways, but the basic way God helps us is by what God has said.
That’s how God was helping the rich man, by what God said through Moses. God was helping the rich man to be a righteous man, but the rich man refused that help by ignoring what God had said.

God does not help us like the other gods and goddesses were thought to, by special favors here and there, by special preferences depending on how they like us. I know that many believers have this view of God today. "God help me with this, God give me that." Now I am not saying you should not pray like that. You should. "God help me get this a job. God help me with this task. God give us success, God bless our crops and industry, God heal me from this illness, God save me from death." Yes, pray that way. But you must pray this way by faith in God.

Whatever help you ask from God, you also need to say, "And let your will be done." Whatever particulars you ask of God, you also need to trust God’s providence. You need to trust that the providence of God for you may differ from the help you’re asking for. I know it personally. For many years I prayed for help in one thing and what God helped me with was something else, which now I’m very grateful for. But I still pray for help in terms of what I can see right now.

You see the dynamic with Jeremiah. Jeremiah was in jail and Jerusalem was under siege. The help that they were asking for was different than the help that God would give them. God would not free them now, because the siege was from God’s judgment. But God would give them back their future. They could count on it. You can invest in it, even if it’s right now under evil occupation. The help God gave to Jeremiah was help for his faith and for his hope.

This is the second sermon in my series on prayer. This week I’m saying that prayer is asking for help. Last week I said that prayer is managing the contradictions of our lives. These two aspects work together. Because as soon as you ask for help, you deal with the contradiction of your predicament against God’s promises. This disconnect, this gap, this chasm sometimes, this evident contradiction is what drives you to live by faith and hope and love. But God helps you with your faith and your hope by giving you all these wonderful words that feed your faith. You needs these words to keep believing, there are so many contradictions in the Christian life that if you don’t keep repeating the words of God your faith will fail.

But God helps you with another gift as well, the gift of the Holy Spirit, inside you, which you must believe is given to you without your having to feel it. This is the gift of God’s own power and personality inside you to help you understand God’s word that you can believe it, and the fire of God inside you to give you the hope you need to cross the disconnect, and the love of God inside you to give you the love you need to manage the contradictions in your life.

So what is the help that you should pray for? Let me repeat that you should keep on praying for the usual kinds of help. You should pray for help in time of need, in time of birth or illness or death, help to get that job, help to get that house, help to make ends meet, help for daily bread and help in time of trial and temptation. The typical particulars.

But you should also pray for the special help of the God of Israel, which is the help of God’s word and God’s spirit. Help me with your word, O God, and help me with your spirit, and then help me with these other things as well. You can keep on praying for the typical particulars if you also pray for the help of God’s word and God’s spirit.

But now let me exhort you to some atypical particulars, some unusual kinds of help to pray for. They’re in the epistle, chapter 6:11: "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness." The way that I suggest you pursue them is to pray for them. Pray for help in getting that job, and also pray for help in righteousness. Pray for help in doing your job, and also pray for help in godliness. Pray for help in your finances, and also pray for help in living by your faith. Pray for help in dealing with your family, and also pray for help in love. Pray for help in healing your sickness, and also pray for help with endurance. Pray for help in having success in your life, pray for help in achieving your dreams and purposes, pray for help in making a difference in the world, and also pray for help with gentleness. Not just for yourself, but for our witness.

Our nation needs it desperately right now. Our nation is being ruined by the love of money, which is the opposite of godliness. All the evils that our nation is facing today have entangled roots, but at least one root of all of them is the love of money. And Christians who love money cannot be godly in their Christianity and cannot be gentle in their way of life. The religion that is needed by America is one of gentleness. Not a godliness of wars or violence or opposition or of burning books, but a godliness of gentleness. Not from weakness, but gentle from the strength of our endurance, gentle from the long endurance of our love, gentle from the toughness of our faith in God, gentle from our desire for righteousness.

God help us to be righteous and godly and gentle. God help us with your spirit and help us with your word. And having helped us with these first, then help us with everything else as well.

Copyright © 2010, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.


suz said...

thank you. I believe Anne Lamott wrote that there are two kinds of prayer: help me and thank you.

Old First said...

Yes, she did. I thought of referencing her, and maybe I should have.