One Perfect Prayer

Once when I was in college
a couple of good friends of mine were getting married
And at the rehearsal dinner, moments before the time of the prayer for the meal,
The groom pulled me aside and asked if I would offer the prayer,
Because, he said, it would mean a lot to him and his wife-to-be.

I felt a shot of adrenaline shoot up my spine.
I hadn’t ever prayed for such a large group of people
at such an important occasion,
And the truth is I was terrified… no petrified… to pray, off the cuff, in front of the 50+ people.

But because he asked, and because we were friends,
and because I was honored in this way, I said, of course.

In those brief moments I tried to think of some wise words,
Something deep and thoughtful that would capture
the gravity and grace of the moment,
as two people I loved started a new life together.

I wonder how many of us are very comfortable praying extemporaneously in public.

Well, before I could think,
while I was drowning in the blood that was beating through my mind
and almost hyperventilating
My friend was calling me up to the microphone.

I don’t know what words I prayed,
but I remember thinking
Between my awkward breathing and all the sputters and stutters
That it didn’t make much sense.

I just couldn’t think of what to say.

Afterwards, another guest at the rehearsal dinner and friend of mine
came over to me.

He clearly realized I didn’t know what words to say or what to ask for
And I guess he was trying to be helpful.

And, I will never forget. He said:

“Next time, you could try asking God to bless the food,
Its kind of the elephant in the room.”

If you have ever struggled to pray, my friends,
Publicly or privately.
If you have ever found it difficult to find the right words for the longing inside,

Take heart, Jesus prays for you.

God knows your longing
And is there listening.

Our Risen Lord, Jesus, prays for us now at the right hand of the Father,
just as he did in the moments before his betrayal and arrest.

“I pray not only for these my disciples,” Jesus says,
“but also on behalf of all those who will believe through their word,
that they may be one.”

Jesus was not in some last-minute, slap-dash rush to find the right words.
He stands in the moment of his greatest hour and prays for us with a prayer he had been preparing since before the foundation of the world.

Jesus taps into the wellspring of God’s mercy for us.,
He seeks God’s face for himself, for his disciples, for us,
And for all people, hoping and longing for us to know God’s love and grace
And forgiveness in our lives.

If anything makes us nervous about prayer,
I think it’s probably the notion that God deserves the highest and utmost praise.

Maybe we think we don’t have words deep or wise enough for the God of the Universe, but we shouldn’t worry about that.

Only Jesus’ prayer is perfect.

And what makes Jesus prayer so perfect?

Is it his wisdom or eloquence that make his prayer so poignant?
Is it that he has special knowledge of the exact words to say?
Is it that his heart is in the right place?

Well — the distinctiveness of Jesus’ prayer is that it comes from him.

Jesus is the Son of God — One with the Father —

In perfect obedience he has executed God’s plan of healing, forgiving, and restoring those in need by touching them through his life and ministry simply by being who he is and drawing near to them.

Jesus’ presence brings God’s power.

This week I have been reflection on
One of the lines in our liturgy at the time of Holy Communion:

“Lord, we give you thanks not as we ought, but as we are able.”

To me is seems, these words are a public prayer offered up to God,
In which we acknowledge we who are called to be saints, are are also sinners,
that even though we have heard the joyous news of the gospel,
we have failed to live and speak and share that good news.

And yes, that’s true, I think.

But perhaps I have been thinking of them
because prayer has seemed difficult, at least for me.

It is hard to even come up with the words for prayer after the events of this week.

We pray for the community of Uvalde, Texas,
and for the children and teachers who were murdered,
for their families, for their parents,
for those who were injured and for all those who are experiencing trauma.
But words seem insufficient.

And we pray for the people murdered in Buffalo, New York, and for their families,
and for all who are victims of racist violence and racism
and for all people of color who have endured
mistreatment because of their body’s color.
But mere words seem hollow and not enough.

We pray for Ukraine and for their military and for the civilians
caught up in the mad games of an evil dictator.

But sometimes, in the face of these terrible events in the world,
And challenges and struggles in the lives of other people
and situations close to our hearts,
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have the words for prayer.

It may be that we trust God, but feel so deflated
that it can be a challenge to come up with words that seem appropriate.

Words escape us as if
hidden in a crossword puzzle with no clues.

Do we ever ask: Does God really hear our prayers?

Does God really care?

What if I’m just talking to myself?

How ridiculous would that make me?

When Jesus prayed, though, he was confident in God.
No second-guessing with him.

On the cusp of his own murderous death
Jesus is not intimidated by what people might think
of his public extemporaneous petitions,
about how they or others may judge him,
He is not unsure of his prayer’s usefulness,
And he is not intimidated by the forces of evil that are coming to crucify him.

You see, the Father knows the grief of losing a child to senseless violence.

And Jesus knows what it is to be mown down.
And, in the moments before that tragedy,
with you and me, and all his Beloved in his heart,
He looks to his Father and trusts the promise of God’s faithfulness
And the resurrection to come,
And thinks not of himself,
But he prays for us.

Jesus has prayed for us and continues to pray for us,
Especially when we can’t.

His simple prayer
is for his mission to be fulfilled:

that the world would believe in him
and therefore come to know God’s
deep and abiding love for all who suffer and cry out for healing.

When I was in high school I was on the track and field team.

For me, one of the most exciting events in track and field is the relay.

Its really the only time, I think that a race’s outcome is based on more than one person’s speed.

After the starting gun, one runner runs her part of the race carrying the baton and then passes the baton off to the next runner, who passes it to the next runner…

From hand to hand, the race continues on from one runner to the next.

Jesus passes the baton to us and sends us to be his presence in the world, living and loving like him.

And as we go,
With his prayers and with his love he cheers us on from the stands…

Praying that we might live lives that help others believe in him,
and speak words that help others believe in him,
and share love so unselfishly and so freely that the world would believe in him,
and, in so believing, receive God’s love.

He trusts that we will succeed.

And he leads us… in a life of service and fellowship.

He leads us… in a life of coming to God even in our grief and the unknown.

He leads us… in a life of endure suffering for others.

He leads us… in a life of prayer.

And because he leads us and gives us his courage and capacity to pray,
Our prayers don’t have to be wise or eloquent,

We can simply rest in God.

We can rest in the loving and joyous relationship God has already initiated with us.

I think back to my friends who were married.

They are still married and, happily, have one beautiful son.
Their future did not depend on my ability to pray…

Clearly, their rehearsal and wedding and life together has
Unfolded before them through the years to this very day,
because of God’s guidance and blessing.

God’s success in mission doesn’t depend on us,
But is a gift from God.

By God’s grace he will use us for his purposes, even in our weakness.

Especially today as we remember and give God thanks
for those who have served our country and given their lives
so that we can live in freedom,

we acknowledge that
these women and men are heroes
but they were not without flaw.

Like us they had fears and insecurities,
But they gave their life for the greater good of our country and our freedom.

God doesn’t work with perfect people,
God works with sinners
whom he gathers,
And blesses,
And fills with heavenly blessing and grace,
Who he forgives,
And who he forms to be holy people
One with all the saints in light.

So, we rest in God
And we grip the baton,
and we run the race set before us together.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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