Twenty minutes: for about twenty minutes Friday night we stared up into the sky as fireworks burst in a variety of formations and colors amidst the "ooo's" and "aah's" surrounding us. For about twenty minutes they distracted us, making us forget all that has gone wrong in this world in the last few weeks alone: churches of pre-dominantly African American membership continue to burst into flames on the ground as arsonists burn them out of uncontrollable hate. Convicted felons escape from prison. Stocks tumble because Greece cannot save itself from economic ruin. Another plane crashes killing twenty-six people in Indonesia, and as always, the list is undeniably never-ending in the pain and suffering. But for twenty minutes Friday night, it was gone. The lit-up sky was peaceful to our soul, even if the sound pierced the ears of nature. Nevertheless, at that moment, all was well.
But then came the after. Hundreds of people had to get into their vehicles, into a gridlock. Car horns reigned just as loud as the fireworks shortly before. And the stress, and the annoyance, and the frustration, and the anger soared in our once peace-filled soul. If we could make it home in time we watched the eleven o'clock news and we would be reminded by someone in a television screen that the world had indeed not changed. The newspaper came the next morning with just as many headlines of pain and suffering as the day before. We were back to reality. If only that twenty minute interval of soothing eye-pleasing flashes of hopes and dreams could just last a little longer, could restore the nation and humanity just a little more.
We often hope prayer would do the same thing. We hope that through prayer God will restore the nation and the entire world, for that matter, to a state of peace and wholeness that would be as soothing to the ears of nature as it was at the beginning of time. It wasn't all that long ago in the grand scheme of history that people would not bow their heads with eyes wide shut in prayer. Instead, they stared into the heavens, because that's obviously where God had set up shop to respond to all the cries of the world beneath. Hence why the Psalm this morning begins with, "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!" Nowadays we bow our heads in reverence to the God who evidently remains in the heavens staring down the universe below.
Except, as the story goes, God does not stay in the heavens. God shows up immersed in humanity. God shows up in a son of a carpenter, in the midst of awful poverty, and heals and redeems and saves human beings from all walks of life. But it wasn't just a one-time deal even after a death and resurrection of eternal salvation proportion before ascending into heaven. The story of God's activity among us mere mortals continues as the Holy Spirit, just as much God as Jesus Christ, invades the souls of the disciples to keep the life-saving ministry of our Lord and Savior going.
God has not setup shop in the heavens. Actually, God is setup right here: in this church, in this community, in this nation, in this world, in us. And in this divine shop we call ministry, prayer is by no means a crying out of a to-do list for God to take care of whenever God feels like it. After all, God has entrusted us to be an integral part in this life-shaping activity we call prayer.
However, we use it as a way to calm us, to bring God to the forefronts of our mind, as a way to soothe our soul even more than fireworks bursting in the sky. But with prayer it hardly ever lasts twenty minutes. Our hearts are not used to that much peace, that much God-immersion in our mind. Once we say that, "Amen," we turn back to reality, with God at the back of our mind, if at all, and we return to a world with still far too much despair.
And yet what God has in mind through prayer is to empower us to work with God in this shop we call ministry. God empowers us through the Holy Spirit to not simply "let go and let God" take care of it all. God gave us too many gifts, too much talent, too much passion, too much Jesus to simply let us sit back and let God take care of everything.
That's not what God had in mind with the Creation. God was never interested in domination, manipulation, or controlling of any sort. That's not love, and most certainly not the love of God that ended up saving us all on the cross. Out of the resurrection came true freedom, not from a British empire or taxes without representation, but a freedom from sin and death, and ultimately from this world of too much pain and suffering. No need to worry about where we will end up for eternity. God has already taken care of that, so that we can care for each other amidst each other's cries and anguish. That's what prayer is all about: not begging God to do this and that, but God igniting the Holy Spirit more than all the fireworks combined to let the light of Christ shine in all that we say and do. All made possible by the definitive freedom of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, now and forevermore. And that freedom can never be taken away from any of us, and from all children of God for all times and places. And for that, we give thanks to
God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon