Sorry this is delayed! It’s been a crazy couple of days and I’ve been in meetings and buried under a pile of email. Here is Sunday’s sermon! It was such a fun one to preach. I found this beautiful note on prayer separated into four paragraphs – I had people in the congregation stand up and read it from their seats.
1 Kings 19:4-8
Touched By God
When Bruce and I lived in Atlanta, we experienced two difference versions of those hot southern summers. I experienced the version where I drove my car to Emory University or Grady Memorial Hospital, walked from the parking garage to an air conditioned building, said, “Phew! It’s hot out there!” to the first person I saw and got on with my day. Bruce experienced the version where he worked outside for most of the day on hot macadam and came home exhausted, dehydrated and sunburned.
If you ever hear me say, “Oh, summers weren’t that bad in Atlanta,” you might want to go to Bruce for a second opinion.
Our physical appearance reflected the different versions of summer that we experienced. We would often head north for an extended weekend to visit our families, they would look at my pasty white skin and we would have some version of the following conversation:
Them: Why are you so white? Don’t you live in the south?
Me: I work in an air conditioned building. You cannot get tan if you are not actually out in the sun.
Them: Bruce is tan. He looks like he lives in the south.
Me: Bruce works outside.
It’s true, right? Artificial methods aside, if you do not spend time outside in the sun, you will not look like you have spent time in the sun.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a member of my mom’s church in Connecticut. In the email she told me about a book that she was reading that made her think of me. The book is called The Dieter’s Prayer Book, by Heather Harplan Kapp. In it, Kapp references Brennan Manning’s book, Lion and Lamb. Manning – who is an American contemplative priest, author and speaker – writes in this book:
The most important thing that ever happens in prayer is letting ourselves be loved by God. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46:10) It’s like slipping into a tub of hot water and letting God’s love wash over us, enfold us. Prayer is like sun bathing. When you spend a lot of tie in the sun, people notice it. They say, “You’ve been at the beach.” You look like you’ve been out in the sun because you’ve got a tan. Prayer – or bathing in the Son of God’s love (Son bathing?) – makes you look different. The awareness of being loved brings a touch of lightness and a tint of brightness, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, a smile plays at the corner of your mouth. Through prayer you not only know God’s love, you realize it; you are in conscious communion with it.
“Through prayer you not only know God’s love, you realize it; you are in conscious communion with it.”
What does it mean to bath in the Son of God’s love? What would we look like if we made a constant effort to be touched by God; to feel the warmth of God’s love move deep within us and give our bodies and a gentle glow? What would we feel like if we opened ourselves up to God’s touch every single day of our lives?
This morning’s scripture comes from the book of 1 Kings, which is the first of two books that provide a continuous account of Israel’s history from approximately 970 BCE to 560 BCE. We enter into the story this morning when the prophet Elijah is in the middle of a meltdown of epic proportions. Leading up to this passage, there had been extreme hostility between Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, and Ahab, the King of Israel and his queen, Jezebel. There were several reasons Elijah was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. King Ahab thought that Elijah – who had predicted the three-year drought – was a troublemaker for Israel. There were disputes between Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, of YAHWEH, and the prophets Ba’al, a Canaanite god thought to be associated with weather and fertility. A battle eventually erupted between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al and the prophets of Ba’al were eventually all slaughtered. Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah with retaliation. And Elijah, now fearing for his life, fled Israel and took a journey out into the wilderness.
The interesting thing to note about Elijah’s journey is the fact he inadvertently took the same journey that the Israelites took when they were fleeing Pharaoh in Exodus in reverse. He went first to Beersheba, out into the wilderness and eventually arrived at Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai, we all know, is where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Elijah stood at sacred ground; a place where his ancestors had already once been touched by God.
By the time time Elijah arrives at Mount Horeb, he is experiencing prophetic burnout. God called him to be a prophet, but his ministry was not an easy one. He now feels alone and isolated. He thinks that he is a failure as a prophet. He feels inadequate and unworthy. He fears for his life; he is exhausted. What modern society would now diagnose as depression or anxiety have completely taken over Elijah. The demands of ministry – and of life! – are great and he does not feel like he has the strength keep living his life.
“It is enough; now O LORD take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors,” Elijah pleads with God. I cannot do this anymore; please just make it end right now.
I think we have all been there. Even if we have never pleaded with God the way that Elijah did, we have certainly all experienced burnout and subsequent meltdowns. We have all felt feelings of failure, depression, despair, fear, inadequacy, unworthiness, exhaustion and isolation. We can relate to Elijah. Yes, Elijah experienced these feelings because he was a prophet, a minister of God, but we all experience these feelings in our everyday lives.
Then [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
In his moment of desperation and despair, Elijah was touched by God.
Again, I ask – what would we look like if we made a constant effort to be touched by God; to feel the warmth of God’s love move deep within us and give our bodies and a gentle glow? What would we feel like if we opened ourselves up to God’s touch every single day of our lives?
This passage has me thinking a lot about prayer. Last week we looked at the passage in Exodus where the Israelites cried out for food in the wilderness and God answered their prayers and provided manna from heaven. We talked about the ways that we can be active participants in prayer; that we can make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. But the Elijah’s prayers seem more desperate, more intimate and more relational with God. He threw himself down on the ground and pleaded with God. Elijah was at a point where he needed help beyond his human capacity. His prayers seem to be serving as a way not only to allow himself to be transformed by God, but also as a way to be touched by God.
What would we look like if we made a constant effort to be touched by God?
I came across a description of prayer this week written by the late Father Frank J. Houdek, Jesuit priest and author. I would like to read it together this morning.
Prayer is a gift from God. It does not create God’s presence or make God any more loving or available. It simply helps one to become aware of the various creative ways that God is already present and active in one’s life. It consists not so much on what we do, but how much we allow God to do, to act in and through us, to “gift” us. In short, prayer is an awareness of God’s constant and loving presence and action. Using this definition, prayer can appear to be very risky and powerful, a mysterious challenge that always asks us to transcend ourselves. It is a profound call and personal invitation to growth and fidelity, to transformation and freedom, to becoming a new creation – that, a new person in God. It involves giving God the power to possess us while allowing ourselves the freedom to enter more generously into His divine presence.
Prayer has been called a radical response to life. It is a growing interaction with one’s own life, an interaction that is a response, because the God of life takes the initiative and sustains the reality of the prayer relationship. During this time one is invited only to be receptive, to respond to the movements that occur in and through life. It is not merely a matter of saying prayers but rather an openness to God in every way. Prayer is God’s revelation in the joys, pains, moods, and day-to-day ordinary events of life. All this and mores forms the “stuff” and substance of prayer. No part of our faith life, our experience, or our vision excludes or escapes the loving presence of God.
Prayer, therefore, is not just a part of life, but all of life. It is not a part of our thoughts, emotions, images, feelings, memories, actions, and reactions; it is all of them. To pray is to think and to feel and to live constantly in response to God. One must let God be in life and experience. This does not imply that one cannot take the time to pray and be alone with God. It only means that prayer should in no way be divorced from life. Everything in one’s life is part of God’s concern for us. God is not indifferent to any part of our lives.
Prayer heightens and deepens the importance of letting God love us as we are. We need not prove anything to God; we could not do so, even if was it needed. We cannot coerce, negotiate, or purchase the love of God. It already exists, for God is love. All we need to do is to be open and available to the undeserved and unreserved love that God has for us. It makes no sense to compare one’s personal prayer with the prayer of someone else. Perhaps some value may come in hearing others speak of their prayer, but we each pray as no one else does. Rather, what is needed is nurturing and relishing the wonderful uniqueness of one’s own gift of prayer.
We have been given a gift. Prayer is our gift from God. Every single day we have the ability to be touched by God, to be loved by God, to feel God’s holy and awesome presence in our lives. To soak up God’s presence and feel our skin glow. To bathe and bask in God’s love and feel it warm our whole bodies and fuel us on our journeys through life. We will look different, we will feel different and we will act different. If we open ourselves up in prayer others will know that we have been changed by God’s touch.
What would we look like if we made a constant effort to be touched by God?
I think it’s time to find out.
Thanks be to God!