|Advent 1, Year B||November 30, 2014||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
|Christ the King, Year A||November 23, 2014||Christ the King, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25: 31-46|
|Pentecost 23, year A||November 16, 2014||Proper 28, Year A||Matthew 25:14-20|
|Pentecost 22, year A||November 9, 2014||Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
|All Saints, 2014||November 2, 2014||All Saints’ Day, Year A||Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12|
|Pentecost 20, year A||October 26, 2014||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36|
|Pentecost 19, year A||October 19, 2014||Proper 24, Year A||Isaiah 45:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22|
|Pentecost 17, year A||October 5, 2014||Proper 22, Year A||Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46|
|Pentecost 16, year A||September 28, 2014||Proper 21, Year A||Sermon, Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25: 1-8, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32|
|Pentecost 14, year A||September 14, 2014||Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35|
|Pentecost 13, year A||September 7, 2014||Proper 18, Year A||Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20|
|Pentecost 11, year A||August 24, 2014||Proper 16, Year A||Matthew 16:13-20|
|Pentecost 10, year A||August 17, 2014||Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28|
|Pentecost 9, year A||August 10, 2014||Proper 14, Year A||Matthew 14:22-33|
|Pentecost 8, year A||August 3, 2014||Pentecost 8, year A||Matthew 14:13-21|
Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:October 20, 2013
Scripture: Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 24C
Several of us had a great time feeding the Caroline County football team last Monday night. Yesterday, I enjoyed being with many of you at the Bowling Green Harvest Festival, and then last night, I enjoyed being with Nancy and Alex at the Gideons’ Dinner in Tappahannock. And this coming Tuesday, we welcome The Thirteen to our parish for what promises to be a wonderful concert.
Yes, October has been a busy month, full of comings and goings.
In fact, 2013 has been a busy year. I feel like I’ve joined a wrestling team—and this team I’m on wrestles with schedules. We wrestlers on this team strive to prevail and get everything done that we intend to do.
And I’m also a member of another wrestling team.
As we age, and our bodies start to wear out on us, we wrestle to prevail over our bodies—to keep them functioning in the same ways that they did when we were younger, and eventually, just to keep them going.
Now even if you’re not a member of one of these teams, I’m betting that everyone of us in here is wrestling with something—maybe depression, an addiction, family issues, and the list could go on.
That’s why I got so excited when I entered into today’s lectionary passages—because these passages are a great instruction manual for wrestlers.
So let’s start with that famous verse from Second Timothy—“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Bingo! The Bible as a whole is a great resource to turn to for those of us who want to be excellent wrestlers.
And so, in this instruction manual, on page 1,994 in my Bible, you’ll find this verse in the gospel according to Luke, the first verse we heard in the gospel today, these words—
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”
And to me, this verse is the key for wrestlers—to pray, and not to lose heart.
So today, I want to talk about a particular way of praying that I hope you’ll find useful in your own life of prayer.
Let’s use that wrestling analogy again. You can put this prayer I’m going to teach you into your gym bag and use it to your advantage in your current and future wrestling matches.
This prayer is like getting a pair of new wrestling shoes—lightweight, flexible shoes that provide you, the wrestler, with traction, so that you can grip the mat in your struggle, and—these shoes protect your ankles so that you can keep your balance.
And that’s what prayer does for us—helps us gain traction, protects us and gives us balance on our journeys through life and keeps us from losing heart.
Let’s go now to Psalm 121, which fittingly is about going on a journey, probably by foot.
In this psalm, a pilgrim is getting ready to leave on a journey, perhaps to Jerusalem, and so he or she looks toward the hills surrounding Jerusalem that must be crossed and asks where help will come from along the way.
And I love what the person answering the question says. The immediate answer is that our help is going to come from God, the maker of heaven and earth—and this God is the God to whom we pray.
Can’t you just hear the creative energy swirling around in that phrase, the maker of heaven and earth—God’s vitality, brimming over into all of creation, both here on earth and out beyond the stars into the farthest reaches of the universe—
The early church was so captivated by God as energetic creator that this phrase, maker of heaven and earth, ended up in the Apostles’ Creed.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”
And then the psalm goes on to tell us more about the nature of this God to whom we are to turn to in prayer—
This is our God–creative, vital, and energetic. God never sleeps. God watches over us day and night, (and I love this—I can go to sleep at night knowing that God is awake and watching over me and all the people I love),
This is our God, the Lord of history, all of history, and yet, God is still at work in history, right beside us, protecting each one of us individually.
This is our God– our shade, which brings to mind that very maternal image of God –hiding us from danger as the mother hen hides her chicks under the shadow of her wing.
This is our God, who knows each one of us as we’re being knit together in our mothers’ wombs, who is with us at our births, who journeys with us through our lives, who provides the comforting shelter of wings, who keeps our feet from slipping.
This is our God, to whom we are to pray if we wish not to lose heart. God is always with us—and it’s when we claim God’s presence with us that we are renewed.
When we pray, we find strength and vitality, joy and steadfast faith even in the midst of the sorrowful and perhaps dangerous places that all of us must pass through in our lives.
This is our God– there at the end, when our journey through this life is over and we die. I love the last line in Hymn 694 in our hymn book—“God be at mine end, and at my departing.”
So it’s no wonder that Psalm 121 is appointed in our prayer book for funerals—because it’s a magnificent summary of God traveling alongside us from the beginning of life to its end and beyond.
How, then, can we pray with this Psalm? That’s what I want to share with you today—the way you can make this psalm yours as a breath prayer.
But first, let’s talk about breath itself.
When I worked for Hospice, I spent a lot of time with people who were dying.
At the end of life, our breathing changes. We go from the breathing that we take completely for granted, to breathing that for a while might be labored, almost gasping, and then later, irregular breathing with long pauses between each breath, and then at last, the end. Breathing stops.
Several years ago, my professor’s husband died. I was there with the two of them when he took his last breath.
I’ll never forget his last breaths—long deep breaths, with long pauses between, and then at last, his last breath, a breathing out—and as the air of his last breath passed over his vocal cords, the most beautiful sighing I think I’ve ever heard came from him, a long low deep gorgeous sound that reverberated and then lingered in the room, and at last faded away into silence.
And then we opened the prayer book and read the prayers appointed for the time of death.
As I’ve thought about this, I realize that every breath we take is a little journey of its own. Breathing in, we take in oxygen, we take in life, we give our bodies new life.
Then we breathe out, and if we don’t take another breath, we die.
Breathing in is like birth, breathing out is a little hint our eventual deaths. This is probably why, when we are tense, we tend to hold our breaths, forgetting to breathe in and out—because we’re holding onto the little breath we have for dear life, not trusting that we’ll be able to take a new breath if we let the old breath out.
Breath is important in every religion. In Christianity, we think of the Spirit of God as the breath of life.
We can use this psalm to breathe in our daily prayers, especially when we’re losing heart because we’re having difficulty feeling God’s abiding presence with us.
Here’s how it works.
We’re going to take the last verse of this psalm—
“The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for ever more.”
Now we’ll use this verse as a breath prayer, as in “breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew.”
As you pray these words, “The Lord shall watch,” (recalling that God is watching over us), take a deep breath in.
And then, as you pray the next words “over your going out”, slowly and purposely exhale—God is watching over us at all of our departings, and especially in our departure from this life into the next.
And then, breathe in deeply on the next words, “and your coming in.”
God is with us at all of our beginnings, at birth, with each breath we take in, and with us at the beginning of new life when we pass through the grave and gate of death and then take our first breath of heaven.
And then a breath out “for this time forth”
and at last a breath in, “for ever more.”
Commit this verse to memory. This is the prayer that will keep your heart strong and steady.
This is the prayer that will keep your foot from slipping and that will keep you moving when you feel that you can’t go another step along the way.
So let’s try it now.
“The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in from this time forth for ever more.”