Prayers of the Gathered and Scattered

(1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45; James 5:13-20) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 30, 2018 – UBC Digby

Here we are, again. It is said the average person’s idea of a good sermon is one that goes over his or her head, and hits a neighbour.  

If all the people in church were laid down end to end, they would be more comfortable.

And then there was a pastor who was said to be a great preacher — at the close of every sermon there was a great awakening!

At our best times, our healthiest spiritual seasons, we GATHER in Christ to grow and SCATTER into our neighbourhoods [around the world.]  The final words of the little book of James instruct us today about what we do together, and on our own.

We gather to praise.  Are any [among you] cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. J 5:13

This is pretty much the one spiritual practice I have been good at in my life.  ‘Going to Church,’ we call it – though I don’t like to call it that, at all.  Worshipping with others is one thing I am good at.

I am undisciplined when it comes to my personal praying.  Disorganised at reading the Bible all the time. Weak at talking to people about Jesus when I’m out and about.  Faltering at being polite and thankful. Scattered and unsettled in my theology and my personal beliefs. Too self-centred when it comes to giving my time and energy.  

But going to services every single week – I can do that!  I was disappointed two weeks ago when I was with friends down on the islands and I missed my chance to go to a service there on Sunday morning.  I only get about five Sundays a year to be in some other church somewhere! Hey, back when I was a twenty- year-old biology student at university, I went to chapel services – six days a week. Every week. Often that was ten short services a week! I almost never missed.  

Most ‘normal people’ don’t have a gift for attending worship.  Your best spiritual practices are the other things: praying, or studying the Bible, or giving to the needy, showing hospitality, being a friend, helping others get projects done, so forth.

Are any among you cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.   We gather to praise God and do all the other parts of worship.  We find ourselves called together. It is harder for some to answer this can than for others.  

And We gather to pray.  Are any among you suffering? They should pray. …Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. J 5:13-15

Praying alone, on your own, is an important habit we learn.  It goes hand-in-hand with learning to pray together. Getting called together for prayer.  Getting inspired to talk with God when we gather.

There are plenty of ways we do our praying.  Like last week, by dropping an autumn leaf or a chestnut – each one a prayer of thanks.  There is personal praying, and there is group praying.

You’ll notice that I very rarely use the word “I” when I pray out loud around you.  Ya know: “Lord, I thank you for this…”  That’s ‘cause I was taught that when I am praying in a group, I am helping everyone pray.  I am giving words to everyone’s prayer. I am not saying my personal prayer out loud in front of you.  I am trying to say words to God for all of us in the room – be it at Sunday worship, choir rehearsal, or a Bible study gathering.  So I say “we,” not “I.”

Praying together is another Christian activity that some people love and appreciate, and some people don’t so much.  The word of scripture calls us, again and again, to prayer. Like a church bell, the invitation goes out, and we discover that prayer together does something different and wonderful.   

And We gather to be at peace.  Well, I wanted another word that starts with “P”.  (I could have chosen penitence.) Praise, Prayer, Peace.  Peace with God.  Peace with ourselves.  Peace with others. Peace with the universe.  …Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  J 5:15-16

The Gospel of salvation seems so much to be about sin and forgiveness.  Whatever creative and biblical words we use for it all, we come to know the Good News for us from God.  Something good for whatever problem we see.

Friday and Saturday Sharon and I heard some talks by Dr. Dorothy Hunse, of ADC.  She reminded us of the need to do a very biblical thing: to lament. To complain and cry out to God, with God.  

For we want to be saved not only from our sins, but from many other troubles and pains we have. Like all the individuals and communities that met up with Jesus – in the Bible – now, each of us gets saved from lots of things. And saved for plenty of things.  So when we scatter – about half an hour from now – we take a lot of Good News with us to share.

A man named Zacchaeus was quite rich, but quite isolated and alone.  Jesus befriended him, included him, went to his house. Zach becomes family.

A woman who had a fling with a man, and was condemned by the law, met Jesus, who did not condemn her.  Instead, he helped those who judged her know their own guilt.

A frightening man, mentally deranged, living in a cemetery, was met my Jesus, who set him free from the evil illness.  Maybe that’s one thing the Bible stories about possession by evil spirits can tell us: that sickness is bad, and it is not all our fault when we get sick.

Religious law experts kept meeting Christ, and he kept breaking down how they understood their Bible.  The real way of life was far better than the way they taught it. Jesus showed real wisdom, and said, “Here, you can have it.”

Then Jesus himself takes all of human experience, and gets executed, and then lives again.  He tells us this is for us. We are included in this historic death and this eternal life.  We are included in God’s story.

We know the Gospel of peace.  

Praise, Prayer and Peace: core things about our gatherings like this.  We also scatter for these three things. We scatter for praise. We scatter for prayer. We scatter to make peace. Two sides of the same coin.

[Like me, you remember when the Canadian two dollar bill was replaced with a coin?  Someone back then described it as: Queen Elizabeth, with a bear behind!]

Two sides. Being a Christian in this life is about gathering, and scattering.  In, and out, a rhythm of life. The Marks of a Mission-Edge Church include this:     GATHERING in Christ to grow and SCATTERING into our neighbourhoods around the world

So this can include these things that happen:

  • We gather in worship and seek to be transformed by the Spirit, who compels us to share the Gospel in word and deed.
  • Our gathering is not the end point, but the centering point, for then scattering back into the world (while incarnating Jesus).
  • This ongoing process of gathering together and then scattering leads to growth in our church, both in spiritual depth and in numbers.

In other words, a healthy church, a congregation that knows its mission from God, gets together to be changed, to get prepared.  Its gatherings – on Sunday or whenever – are not the main goal, but help it be the church better when all the people go out into their lives.  And the local church that gathers and scatters – like the tides constantly ebbing and flowing – is healthy: it gets healthier.

This is our life in the Gospel, the Good News.  More happens – miracle happens – because of the Saviour, who takes us in, and sends us out.

Years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote: A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is that assertion that people are saved by grace.  There’s nothing you have to do.  There’s nothing you have to do.  There’s nothing you have to do.

There’s only one catch.  Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.  Maybe just being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.  (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 34)

So gather, gather with me, to grasp this grace.
And go: go alongside me, to give this grace.

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