“So spoke the disciples to Jesus. In making this request, they confessed that they were not able to pray on their own, that they had to learn to pray. The phrase ‘learning to pray’ sounds strange to us. If the heart does not overflow and begin to pray by itself, we say, it will never ‘learn’ to pray. But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings—all of which the heart can do by itself—with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with Him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that, he needs Jesus Christ.” Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, May 1943
The season of Lent is a time of prayer. When do we become skillful at praying? Do you find it challenging to pray? I find it especially difficult to pray with those who are in duress, whether at the hospital after a tragic accident, sudden illness, death or upsetting diagnosis. Words fail us. Silence is painful. I want to say something helpful and profound, but the words evade my grasp. Saying the wrong thing is worse than saying nothing. Prayer is a gift that comes to us through the connection of the Holy Spirit.
The importance of being present is strongly expressed in the post resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples. They are scared. They are in hiding. Jesus meets them where they are. Physically, yes but more importantly emotionally and spiritually. The Gospel of John offers Jesus’ gifting of the Holy Spirit much differently than Luke’s account in the book of Acts. No fire, wind, noise or foreign tongues. Jesus is present. Jesus calms their fears. He breathes on them and says, very simply, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That is a ministry of presence. No fancy prayer, very simple words accompanied by a powerful sense of love and calm. A beautiful ministry of presence.
Jesus is our example. Jesus taught us to love one another. Jesus taught us to care for one another. Jesus taught us to pray for one another. Jesus gave us a perfect example of prayer to use when our own words fail us. Nothing is as beautiful to me as hearing the children of Spirit Lake Presbyterian Church pray these words together.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
Recently, the Gospel offered in the lectionary told the story from Mark when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. The way he healed her was through physical touch. One of the scholarly resources that I used for study and preparation made an extremely focused and powerful point about the importance of human connection through the power of touch. It is a gift. It is a gift that has been taken away from us during the past 11 months. This past Sunday morning after worship, in order to offer the greatest degree of precaution I put on my N-99 mask (no, that was not a mistake. I have a charcoal impregnated mask with an AMA rating of N-99) and used copious amounts of highly concentrated hand sanitizer and made my way to the back of the church to visually and audibly greet my friends as they left worship.
As I was standing there, I greeted my 6-year-old buddy Jacoby. He has gotten so grown up during the past 11 months as so many of our children have at Spirit Lake. Jacoby smiled with his bright eyes surrounded by the cutest freckles you have ever seen that his mask couldn’t hide and walked right up to me and unapologetically and very assertively gave me a hug.
Sometimes Jesus comes to us on the seashore to feed us. Sometimes Jesus walks across the water to calm the storm and calm our fears. Sometimes Jesus breathes on us and tells us to receive the Holy Spirit and be filled with peace. Last Sunday, Jesus came to me as a little boy to remind me of the connections that truly matter. Thank you, Jesus, for sending the message of how important the ministry of presence truly is to all of us. Saint Francis of Assisi said many years ago, “Always preach the Gospel, if you must, use words.” Thank you, Jacoby, for preaching the Gospel to me…