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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Persistent Prayer

Easter 7, 5/16/20

When I read the lessons and the gospel at the start of this week, I was not very inspired. That gospel reading makes me dizzy! The high priestly prayer is a little too verbose for me. So I did what I do when inspiration doesn’t come readily – I listened.

And inspiration found me – thanks to the Holy Spirit. I listened to a podcast where a woman shared a story of recent success – getting a book deal. But she wanted to tell the story of what went into that success, because so often, we hear someone’s good news and we are unaware of everything it took to get there. For her, that was the 5+ years of rejection and doubts and missteps that inevitably led to that book.

She shared the story because doing so reminded her of the power of persistence. That quality of determined faith to persist even when our feelings want us to do otherwise – give up, give in.

And that’s when it hit me! Yes, persistence is the key to the most important word in the lesson. A little word that comes before big action and is shared in both readings – prayer.

I didn’t need to spend tons of time with all those phrases in the gospel – just the first one. Jesus prayed for them. Jesus prayed on behalf of the disciples, interceding for them. And Peter prays too. Peter and his crew ask God to show them who needs to join their committee.

Jesus and Peter model what we embody, what we do – persistently despite what I may be feeling when things are hard. So, that inspired me to refresh my memory on the categories of prayer, because doing so helps me see the rich variety of connecting my thoughts and actions to prayer all the day long. And I know, and I trust that prayer will enable me to persist.

Adoration – Praise – Thanksgiving – Penitence – Oblation – Petition – Intercession

Adoration is the starting place. The silent standing, kneeling, sitting, coming before God with sighs too deep for words. Fully present to the reality that God is God – God’s ways are not my ways, nor God’s thoughts my thoughts – and therefore all I can offer is silent witness to the wonder of that mystery. Sitting in a church – or on a bench – staring at a stained glass window or the simple complexity of a leaf. Some say all prayer, begins in silent wonder and awe. Or as the Psalmist wrote -– Be still and know that I am God.

And how can that not lead to praise? Praise is celebration which is the essence of worship. But worship does not feel very celebratory these days! I know, I don’t like it. Praise is the primary reason we gather week in and week out.

But I still say – Thanks be to God, Alleluia. Alleluia. Because speaking my praise with you matters – a great deal. And I am grateful to give thanks in community every week.

So you see – gratitude comes naturally after that. Naming, calling to mind what God provides for our betterment and enjoyment and fulfillment. To adore, celebrate and praise – means I can’t help but be grateful. When you give to me – I say thank you. God gives to us all the time – our very breath and the beating of our hearts – how can I keep from singing thank you, thank you, thank you.

Gratitude is a powerful prayer.

A grateful heart is an open heart. An open heart opens our eyes, our ears and our minds to what I need to be sorry for. This is the prayer of penitence. You know those litanies – we do on the first Sunday in Lent – or Ash Wednesday. Those long listings of all the ways – together, corporately – we are not living into beloved community.

Individually, I think of penitence as personal accountability. To name where my fear, envy or defensiveness kept me from living what I believe is to hold myself accountable for the next time. Because every day I’m given multiple opportunities to live into who God created me to be. God enabling me to see what I can change, and what I cannot.

Adoration leads to praise leads to thanksgiving leads to gratitude leads to penitence – and more gratitude – and then – then I can offer something. Prayer of oblation.

Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name, bring offerings and come into his courts. But oblation is so much more than the stuff. The stuff we give – the money we give – the time we give - the words we give – the actions we give – the access we give to who we are and what we have access to. The saints that inspire our hearts and minds do so because of their prayer of oblation – the giving of the entirety of their lives. Oblation is where the generosity of our spirt is revealed through what we give and how we inspire others.

The last two types of prayer are what we hear about this morning. Jesus prays for his disciples. He intercedes on their behalf. We do this readily, don’t we? We’re about to do it all together in our Prayers of the People. When I give prayers of intercession my full attention – I connect my heart to the human reality of another child of God.

Prayer of intercession connects us to our shared humanity.

Jesus prays for his disciples because he knows their joys and deeply as he knows their sorrows and sufferings. Empathy is born of intercession. This is the truth of incarnation – Jesus Christ shares our human nature. Because of this, full solidarity with our humanity is moves us closer to Christ’s divinity.

Finally – the prayer I pray most often – multiple times a day – the prayer of petition. Asking for what we need. Peter needed another helper so he asked God to help them. He just asked for what he needed.

Prayers of petition separate what I need from what I want.

I want to be on the other side of this pandemic. I want us to have people back in church. I want to sing and hug and have a coffee hour. What I need is to trust God will enable me – enable us – to get there. What I need is to show up with some persistent faith and courage in the power of prayer. God will give me that.

Jesus said – ask for what you need in my name – and it will be given to you.

So – Adoration/wonder; Praise/celebration; Thanksgiving/gratitude

Oblation/Open Giving; Penitence/Personal accountability

Intercession/Empathy, shared human nature’ Petition/what we need.

Prayer is an exercise of persistent determination. So, let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh God. May you give us persistent faith in prayer so that we may utter prayer – embody prayer – and become the beloved community you desire us to be. Amen.

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