Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Prayer Plunge

Luke 5:1-11

Ice fishing came up during a conversation after our Ash Wednesday service. I’ve never gone ice fishing, and from what I’ve heard, I don’t know if I ever will go ice fishing. I did learn something, however. Apparently, you have to move around the ice, searching for just the right spot – or you’ll sit there all day in the cold and not catch a thing. Indeed, it may be necessary to go out into deeper waters, where those elusive fish might just be hiding.

This morning’s scripture text offers us another fish story. In fact, this one might sound a bit familiar, because just a few weeks ago we heard Mark’s version of the story of Jesus inviting Peter, Andrew, James and John, to join him in a fishing venture. Luke’s version is a bit different, because in this one, Jesus goes out onto the lake to do some fishing with his new group of assistants. Despite their apparent differences, both texts offer us an invitation to join Jesus in the work of evangelism – that is, sharing the good news of God’s kingdom.

We hear this text on the second Sunday of our six-week Unbinding your Heart journey. For the past week, in sermons and small groups, we have talked about evangelism – both our hopes and our fears, our understandings and possible misunderstandings. That conversation continues today and throughout this Lenten journey, but the focus isn’t simply on evangelism. We are learning that evangelism without prayer will make little difference in our lives, in our church, or in our community. Although we’re talking about prayer, we’re doing more than talk – we’re doing some serious praying. We’re praying in our groups, in our homes, and during prayer vigils. We’re praying for each other, for ourselves, our church, and our community. For some of us this is a scary venture – especially the public sort of prayer. But this is important because our efforts at evangelism will make little difference without prayer – without prayer we’re simply trying to do God’s work on our own. Gay Reese writes that it is clear to her that the only way to lead a church or simply to live life in our world requires us to “pray deeply.

We must hand ourselves over to God in clear-headed, accountable, non-naive prayer. We need to rely as much on God for pragmatic guidance as we can stand! Without God vividly in the mix, we drift, life declines.1

1. Listening for God’s voice

I have heard this call to prayer. I affirm its importance in my life and in the life of this congregation. I must also confess that prayer is difficult for me. As some of you have already discovered, I’m a very analytical person. When I pray, my mind tends to wander. I have a difficult time sitting still and listening for that still small voice that is God’s. Like Elijah, I’m not prepared to listen for God’s voice in the midst of quietness. I’d much prefer that God use the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Those would be tangible, attention grabbing, signs of God’s presence. But instead, God has chosen to speak to us out the silence (1 Kings 19:11-13). And so sometimes it’s difficult to know when and how God is speaking to us. Prayer involves much faith.

If you look at Elijah’s conversation with God at Horeb you’ll find God asking him a question, one that God might be posing to us as we come here to worship and to pray. “What are you doing here?” Indeed, why are we here? In this place and this time? What difference does it make for us to be here? In answering God, Elijah does a good bit of complaining and confesses that he’s feeling just a bit abandoned. As far as he knows, he’s the only one left who is following after God – so why bother any more? Maybe you’ve felt that way yourself.

Whatever Elijah’s situation may have been, the point I take from Elijah’s conversation with God is this – if we’re going to hear God’s voice, then we must listen closely. It’s quite likely that God isn’t going to use a burning bush to get our attention. But, God is inviting us into a conversation that can transform our lives.

2. Going Deep With Jesus

We have been called by God to bear witness to God’s work of grace and mercy in this world we call home. Wherever brokenness is found, God is offering a word of healing and wholeness through us. In this story from Luke, Jesus calls on four men to use their gifts to bring a broken people back into relationship with God.

God has gifted us for this work, but the call to prayer that we are hearing today, is a reminder that we can’t do this work on our own. We may be concerned about declining numbers, the small numbers of children and youth, the aging of our congregation. We wonder, even worry, about the future. Indeed, at times we may feel uncertain about where the future will take us - -there are, after all, risks involved. Things may not turn out exactly as we had planned. It’s possible that the fish aren’t biting!

In this case, Jesus told Peter to take the boat out into the deep waters and let down the nets. Being a veteran fisherman, Peter told this amateur that they’d already tried that and it didn’t work. So why bother? Jesus may have been an amateur fisherman, but he was persistent, and eventually Peter gave in, let down the nets, and to his utter amazement, brought in a huge catch. In fact, it seems like those fish were almost jumping into the boat.

The underlying message here is this: if we will trust in God, and listen for God’s voice, then we can go deep with Jesus and find the strength and the wisdom to fulfill our calling. But, we’ll have to stay in touch with God through prayer. Indeed, without a vital and life-changing relationship with God, we will have little to share. When we share our faith, people are less interested in whether we have all the answers. They’re more interested in whether we love God. Gay Reese writes:

Prayer is the way to stay in love with God. Prayer is the way individuals, small groups and congregations grow and become vivid. It is a habit, a discipline, but not discipline with a clenched jaw. Prayer is more about receiving from God than it is about asking God for things or working hard at intercession.2

Of course, there isn’t just one way to pray. For some it may involve meditation, for others walking a labyrinth. Maybe it’s singing a psalm or a hymn. Although I’ve gotten kind of rusty in my guitar playing, I often find that strumming my guitar while singing a song of praise, draws me deeper into the presence of God.

3. Taking Time to Pray

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but during this forty-day journey, there is a prayer team lifting up the congregation in prayer. Anne McCauslin has formed this prayer team, and given each one an assignment. A team member has been assigned to pray while each of our small groups is meeting. The team is also praying for the elders, the staff, the organ task force, the E-Vent planning team, the Council, the Deacons, and the members of this congregation. Indeed, the prayers of the people are lifting up this congregation and its ministries.

This morning I would like to invite each of you to join in this season of prayer, so that together we might go deeper with Jesus. My hope is that along the way we will become more comfortable praying with and for one another. As we reach out to God in prayer, both listening and sharing, we will, I believe, begin to experience God’s love for the world.

Like I said, there are many ways to pray and to share our prayer concerns. The banner hanging in the chancel reminds us that prayer is the foundation of our sharing of faith stories with our neighbors. On the wall to my right is another tool that invites us to engage in prayer. Lance and Diana Payton designed and constructed this prayer wall, which we’ll be using during this Lenten journey. Tamela Wilks is going to come and share with us her own story of prayer and tell us the meaning of the prayer wall and how to use it.

4. Time to go Fishing with Jesus

I want to thank Tamela for helping us understand this tool that will help us hear Jesus’ invitation to come and fish with him . As we head out on this fishing venture, Jesus reminds us that we don’t go alone, but that the Spirit is with us. It is that presence of God in our lives that enables us to share our faith with others. So, will you join me on a little fishing venture that begins and ends in prayer?

1. Martha Grace Reese, Unbinding Your Heart, (Chalice Press, 2008), p. 28.

2. Reese, Unbinding Your Heart, p. 37.

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
March 1, 2009
First Sunday of Lent

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