August 19, 2018

Proper 15

Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15

The Rev. James M.L. Grace 

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            Hi, everyone.  It is good to see you all again, and good to be standing here now.  I had a great sabbatical, but I know sabbaticals are not possible without things like church vestries and church staff members.  So I want to recognize two people for whom this sabbatical would not have been possible.    First, the Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis, and her leadership of this congregation before, during, and following the sabbatical.  She made it seamless.  Thank you, Carissa. (Applause).  Secondly, your Senior Warden on the Vestry, Collin Ricklefs.  Collin stepped up to the plate (I’m using a sports analogy because Collin works for Academy and gets those kind of things) and went above and beyond as the Sr. Warden of this parish. (Applause).  Collin and Carissa are a both a blessing to this church.

            So I left three months ago, and if you follow my wife on facebook you have a pretty good idea of what we did and where we went.  So I’m not going to talk about that, but what I do want to do is see if any of you recall that when I left three months ago, I left you all with a prayer.  Anybody remember that?  Anybody remember what the prayer was?   The Prayer of St. Francis.  That is a really important prayer to me, it’s one I pray daily, arguably one of the greatest prayers ever written. 

            I hear from some of you all a desire to learn how to pray.  How do we talk to God?  What do we even say?  One of my favorite movies is one called “Gravity” which starred Sandra Bullock as an astronaut in outer space working on a space station.  When the space station she is working on is nearly destroyed by floating debris in space, she is the last one left alive and she has to figure out how to get to earth, while her oxygen is running out, and the space station continues to fall apart.  In the film there is a scene which was powerful for me where she believes she is going to die, her oxygen is nearly out, the space station is beginning to freeze and she is facing what seems to be her end. In a monologue she starts talking to herself, and she asks the question out loud if anyone is praying for her on earth.  Then she says “I would pray for myself, but I don’t know how.  No one ever taught me how to pray.”

            How do you learn to pray?  For me, I learned by praying.  A recall of my entire history of prayerful conversations with God would certainly yield many embarrassing moments as it would moments of sheer desperation.  My prayer life has not been consistent.  But over the past years or so, I have made daily prayer a priority for me.  And slowly, over time, I think I have changed because of it.  Here is an example

            Two weeks ago our family was at an indoor rock climbing gym in Berlin, Germany.  It was the kind of gym where you didn’t have a rope to catch you if you fell, it was all free climbing.  I was climbing down a wall when my hand slipped from a grip and I fell about a meter, landing onto my left shoulder.  I felt a pop, and knew pretty quickly that I had dislocated my left shoulder.  I went to the hospital and as I was waiting to see the doctor, laying on a hospital gurney in some hallway, I began to pray.  This desire to pray when I am injured does not come naturally to me.  I know this because I also dislocated my same left shoulder twenty years ago and when I was in the hospital for that, I was yelling at the doctors, complaining, and creating such a stir that they threatened to not fix my shoulder unless I stopped swearing at the doctors.  That was twenty years ago.  True, and embarrassing.  Two weeks ago, with a second shoulder injury, my experience in the hospital was very different.  Why?  I was older, maybe more mature.  That’s true, but I believe it is because of my praying.  While on that gurney in Berlin in some hallway, I thought, “I don’t know how long I will be here,  I’ll just go through my prayers.  Why not.  It’s not like I’m going anywhere!”  I began to pray for my family, for the doctors in the hospital, the patients.  I prayed for this parish, for each member of the staff of this church, for each member of our Vestry. 

            And those prayers took me out of that hospital somewhere else – into your hearts of those I was praying for and maybe somewhere into the heart of God. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, which we will pray today, and then I prayed one more prayer – the prayer that is inserted into your service bulletin.  It’s often called the “Serenity Prayer,” and you might be familiar with the first few lines of the prayer, but I wanted to give to you all today the full version of this prayer.  It is one of my most favorite prayers, one I also pray each day, and I would like us to pray it together:   God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time.  Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would like it.  Trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will. That I may be reasonably happy in this world and supremely happy with you forever in the next.  AMEN.

            I am convinced a lifetime of praying this prayer will not unveil all of its meaning.  One could spend decades alone learning to accept hardship as the pathway to peace, which I believe is true.  A reason why this prayer is so meaningful to me is because it is a prayer that is asking for wisdom.  More specifically this is a prayer which asks for the wisdom to know the difference between what we can change and what we are powerless to change. 

            Today we hear the story of another prayer asking for wisdom.  A prayer spoken by the Jewish king Solomon, the son of David, pictured in color on the first page of you order of service.  Solomon asks God for wisdom, in which he says, “[g]ive your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” 

            Solomon prays for wisdom.  For those of us here today with no idea of how to pray, perhaps the words of the Serenity Prayer, or the words of Solomon might be helpful to you.  They are for me. 

            I will stop there.  I left you with the prayer of St. Francis three months ago.  I come back to you today with the Serenity Prayer – two prayers, that have changed my life.  If praying is too difficult for you, start with either one.  They are excellent, and slowly, over time, you will notice that as you pray these prayers, you will become them.  You will learn to pray.  AMEN.