Sunday, August 7, 2015
Biblical Text: Job 42:9-10
This past week has afforded me the great and immeasurable fortune of being able to able to spend some significant time in prayer and meditation upon the beautiful ground of the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York.
At the invitation of Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin and his staff—I gathered with a select group of religious leaders from around the country, to dream about the future of that institution and prayerfully seek the will of God for the future for a religious department of an institution that has been in existence since the late 1800s.
We all like to feel that our gifts matter.
We all like to feel that our contributions are important
We all long to live into a place where we are not simply propping up institutions because they are historic places of being in the world
—but because we believe that we truly discover meaning, and God in those places.
So while the work was excellent, and in that gathering we formed the Chautauqua Clergy Alumni Association, of which we have purposed to raise funds for the religious programming of the institution. What we each discerned was the deep and meaningful value that this historic institution had upon our lives when we sojourned there for the week. We each spoke of the way in which we entered into a posture of prayer so that we might return to our places of ministry to serve as pastors, denominational leaders, and teachers.
This week in preparation for my sermon today I spent significant time in prayer—not simply about what I would say today, but in prayer and openness for the divine presence of God. I reflected upon my life, which has been surrounded in prayer even before I entered the world—thanks be to God to deeply religious Christian parents.
I reflected on my childhood years of praying as a child:
Requesting of God favor and blessings.
Prayers at mealtime
Prayers at rest…
I reflected upon my teens years of praying:
Prayers for invisibility as I walked pass the middle school bully;
Prayers for strengthen to finish the one-mile race, not last;
Prayers for kind friends;
Prayers that she would check-the box YES;
And in High School….and all throughout college:
Struggling to fit in;
Deciding what college;
Attending the Million Man March;
Praying over my church choir before teaching new music;
Praying that God would bless their voices and my hands.
Praying over the ramen noodle in college at Florida A&M;
Piling 4 young men into a 2-seater to go to the mall;
—cause the bus took way too long….
And now for more than a decade into professional ministry I am praying—learning how to pray—learning to wait in and with prayer….
Over the last six weeks we have struggled with Job. We have listened as his story has unfolded before—a life that touched the highest heights and plummeted to deepest depths. And yet in all of Job’s ups and downs he remained faithful to the Lord his God.
He never failed to be in communion with God;
He never failed to talk with God about his struggles;
He never failed to ask God to be near;
He never failed to tell God of his failing and fear;
God heard it all—not because God is constantly listening, but God heard it all because Job told it all.
Professor Carol Newsome writes,
“What the book of Job models is a community of voices struggling to articulate a range of perspectives, each one of which contains valid insights as well as blindness to other dimensions of the problem. At different times and in different circumstances, one or another of the voices may seem more powerful, may be the word we need to hear in order to work our way through a particular experience.”
At different times and in different circumstances—we long for the word that need.
Sometimes that word is one of hope and promise;
Sometimes that word is one of letting go and release;
Sometimes that word is one that is shrouded in deep silence—the unanswered prayer.
(Howard Thurman writes a lot about this….)
But we pray all the same—we stay in divine communication with God because we need to constantly be reminded that not matter goes on in our lives that God still care for us—and through that divine communication we believe that God things, other people, situations that we face—but more so that anything else, we pray that God changes us.
Job is different man at the end of chapter 42 than he is at the beginning of chapter one. Job has been on journey that has been filled with loss, hopelessness, joy, and faithfulness. Jobs situation has changed over the course of this season of his life. Jobs friends have come and gone. Jobs health has failed—Job has even invited death to arrest his life.
Yet in all of this Job has been faithful in prayer.
He has never relented on the Lord;
He has never failed call upon the Lord;
He has constantly talked with the Lord;
He has constantly petitioned the Lord;
His voice is not lost in God’s ear.
And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends.
Church, I know it may sometimes seem fruitless, and vain—but never stop praying, never stop lifting your life—and the life of your friends unto the Lord, because prayer still changes things and us.