June 1, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1: 6-14; Psalm 68: 1- 10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11


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

If you were to ask some clergy about prayer, they might present you with a list of books to read such as “the power of a praying husband.” These are fine, however, if I am asked about prayer, my default reference is the comedy film Talladega Nights, starring Will Ferrell, who plays Ricky Bobby, a champion NASCAR race driver. Here is an extended scene in the film as the Ricky Bobby, his wife Carley, her father Chip, Ricky Bobby’s best friend Cal Naughton, Jr. driver as they sit down to pray before dinner. Ricky begins to pray (and I will do my best to keep a straight face):

Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jesús, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family, my two beautiful, handsome, striking sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, and of course, my red-hot smoking wife, Carley who is a stone-cold fox. Also wanna thank you for my best friend and teammate, Cal Naughton Jr. who’s got my back no matter what. Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we also thank you for my wife’s father, Chip. We hope that you can use your Baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. And it smells terrible and the dogs are always bothering with it. Dear tiny, infant Jesus, we….

Carley interrupts: Hey, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him “baby.” It’s a bit odd and off-putting to pray to a baby.

Ricky responds: Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grownup Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus or whoever you want. [Ricky attempts to start the prayer again] Dear tiny Jesus, in your golden-fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists….

Carley’s father, Chip interrupts: He was a man! He had a beard!

Ricky’s best friend Cal Naughton, Jr. adds: I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T shirt, cause it says, like, “I wanna be formal, but I’m here to party, too.” Cause I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party. I also like to think of Jesus, with giant eagle’s wings. And singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd, with, like, an angel band. And I’m in the front row, and I’m hammered drunk.

Ricky looks at Cal oddly, and attempts to pray a third time: Okay. Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent, we just thank you for all the races I’ve won and the 21.2 million dollars that I have accrued over this past season. Also, due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates I mention Powerade at each grace, I just want to say that Powerade is delicious and it cools you off on a hot summer day. And we look forward to Powerade’s release of Mystic Mountain Blueberry. Thank you for all your power and your grace, dear baby God. Amen.

What more do you need to know about prayer? Like Ricky Bobby, Jesus prayed at the dinner table as well. The prayer we hear Jesus pray from John’s Gospel was one he said at the Last Supper, and like Ricky Bobby’s, it too includes a product placement – himself. This prayer is called the “high priestly prayer” because Jesus is praying as a high priest, offering himself as a sacrifice that has great and inexplicable significance for the whole world.

Prayer is our life. It is what connects us to God. When we read the Bible, we see that Jesus prayed in many ways, and in many different circumstances. Sometimes he prayed in large crowds, sometimes he went away by himself to pray. Sometimes Jesus prayed during times of great anguish and suffering. Other times he prayed during times of great joy.

For me, prayer is about three simple words: relationship, persistence, and renewal. Prayer is relational in the sense that our duty as praying Christians is to be present and open to God even if we don’t feel like it. I remember one time driving home from work and I walked into the house, and there were toys everywhere on the floor, one of our children was sick, the dryer wasn’t working, and the dog had gone to the bathroom on the carpet. At that moment, all I wanted to do was get back in the car and drive to some other house that didn’t have all those problems. But I also wanted to stay married, so I didn’t. That’s what prayer is – it is doing the work of relationship, picking up the toys, cleaning the carpet, even when you don’t want to. It is about relationship.

Secondly, prayer is about persistence. Many of you have likely prayed for something time and time again. It might seem as if those prayers fell on deaf ears. We pray for something again and again not because we are trying to change God’s mind, or to make our will God’s will. Rather, it’s the opposite – we pray for the same thing again and again so that God’s will transforms our will, on earth as it is in heaven. We are persistent in prayer because through our persistence, God changes us. The fact that this past Wednesday city council approved a gay rights ordinance was an answered prayer for many people who persistently prayed for justice. 

Finally, prayer is about renewal. The other day I was digging in some flower beds at our house. While doing so, I noticed that the top layer of dirt was very hard, dry, and ugly. But as I began to dig in the flower beds, I discovered that the earth underneath was refreshingly cool and fresh. Prayer is about overturning the soil of our heart that is hardened by cynicism and despair, so that our heart may once again become a place where goodness and beauty may grow. 

Relationship, persistence, and renewal, and perhaps a little bit of Talladega Nights are what prayer is all about. And for those of you whose persistent prayer is that this sermon would end, well, your prayer is answered. Amen!