Sermon for Year C Proper 12
July 25, 2010
Trinity Episcopal Church, Chocowinity, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan
Ask, Search, Knock
Many months ago, Sonny Browne,
your beloved rector and my beloved friend,
called and asked me if I might want to supply for him
while he was on sabbatical.
Sonny, I replied,
I would love to help you in any way I can,
but I have my own parish—St. John’s in Asheville.
Sonny said, I know that --
but I just thought I would call.
I just thought I would ask.
I thought perhaps you and Tom (my husband)
might like to come and enjoy a week in beautiful Chocowinity.
Most of you know Sonny well enough
that you know it is difficult to say no to him.
He has such a nice way of asking.
And who could refuse an invitation like that?
Who would not want to leave the high cool mountains of North Carolina
in late July,
come east across the state--
to where the heat index is predicted to be 110 degrees today!
The truth is--it’s been hot in Asheville too!
The truth is Chocowinity is a lovely place
and you, the people of Trinity, are as lovely as Sonny told me.
Thank you for the invitation to join you today.
Unfortunately, my husband was unable to join me.
He is the director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center—
just as you have Trinity Center in this diocese
we have Valle Crucis (which is Latin for “Vale of the Cross”)
as our Episcopal Conference Center in Western NC.
Tom sends you his greetings and an invitation
that for your next parish retreat you should come to the mountains!
Our gospel reading for this Sunday has the disciples asking Jesus:
Lord, teach us to pray.
Teach us to pray.
Prayer is so important, so vital to our lives as people of God.
Theologian and scholar C. S. Lewis wrote:
I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—
waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God—it changes me.
When the disciples plead, “Teach us to pray,”
Jesus responds by teaching them what we now call
“The Lord’s Prayer”:
“Okay,” says Jesus,
when you pray, say..
Father, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come…
Jesus is giving them the words to get them started--
much as we might say,
..turn to page 364
in the Book of Common Prayer.
When we are without words, for whatever reason,
words are given.
But Jesus also knows the disciples are not just asking for words.
Jesus knows their real longing is for a deeper relationship with God,
a connectedness that seems missing.
In a way they are saying,
You know Jesus, we must not be doing this prayer thing right
because it seems like God isn’t hearing us.
So many of our prayers just don’t get answered.
Ask and it will be given you.
Search and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened for you.
This does not always seem to play out in our lives.
What about that pony I prayed for when I was 7 years old?
What about my friend who died
when everyone I know was praying for her to live?
God, didn’t you hear us asking?
What about that job that just doesn’t seem to be appearing?
What about true love? What about a bigger bank account?
Where are they?
God, haven’t you seen us looking?
Oh, we knock. We knock and knock and knock.
But we are not going to hang around on your front porch all day, God-
waiting for you to come and answer the door.
We’re busy too you know!
God, maybe you can just get on Facebook--
and we can be friends that way.
Where are you?
Why do you not hear my prayers?
I think God might say
Why do you think I do not hear?
Why do you think I do not care?
Why do you think I do not love you?
Somewhere along the way
we got sidetracked into believing that we could boss God around,
set the agenda, get our way, put God on our time schedule,
and do it through prayer.
Our little token offering to God so we can get what we want.
But prayer is not a means, as one writer put it,
of ringing up God like some cosmic bellboy.
Jesus is trying to teach his disciples
that prayer is connecting with God
from the deepest part of our being—
from the center of our souls—
and learning not only to speak from that center
but to listen from that center place.
Writer Anne Lamott says we only really need two prayers:
The first prayer is Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
The second prayer is Help me! Help me! Help me!
I like those two prayers. They are honest and direct.
Prayer is about being brutally honest and open.
Prayer is sharing with One
who cares more about us than we can ask or imagine.
Prayer is not about getting our way or our wishes.
Prayer is about speaking from our heart—
our deepest desires, our darkest fears and our most illuminated hopes.
The truth is
God already knows all these things.
Prayer is offering it all to God.
Prayer is about the asking, the searching, the knocking.
It’s in the process, the practice of prayer
that is when we come to feel God’s presence,
to know God’s love.
Sonny and I have a mutual friend
also from our days together at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Her name is Glenda McQueen and she is from Panama.
After we graduated, Glenda returned to Panama,
was ordained to the priesthood
and was assigned by her Bishop
to serve 4 parishes
in the somewhat remote but very beautiful province
of Boca del Toro.
One of these parishes is on an island
and the only way to get there was is take a taxi—
a taxi that comes in the form of a canoe.
Her first Sunday morning serving
Glenda did the early morning service at one of her churches
and then raced down to catch the canoe taxi
out to the island for her next service of the day.
But the canoe
had already left.
She was very distressed.
She knew she was going to be very late
by the time the taxi traveled across the water,
dropped his passengers on the island,
came back across the water,
picked her up,
and then went back over to the island.
She sat there worrying and fretting and feeling terrible.
Her fear was that people would give up on her
and leave and go home.
Finally—finally-- the canoe appeared.
She climbed in.
She was so anxious by this point
that she had to truly resist
grabbing the paddle right out of the boatman’s hands.
No need to tell the boatman to “step on it”—
because a canoe can go only so fast.
Plus she had a strong sense
that the church would already be empty
by the time she arrived—
almost 2 hours late.
Not a very good beginning for her first Sunday.
But when she arrived,
the church was full.
No one had left.
Everyone had waited.
They had gone ahead and had their refreshments
and social time--—their “coffee hour”---
before the service.
When she arrived,
no one tapped their watch,
not one person said, “You’re late!”
No one was angry or disappointed with her.
Quite the opposite.
They were happy to see her.
They embraced her.
brought her something cool to drink.
When she began to apologize they stopped her.
It’s fine, they said.
We knew you would come.
We knew you would come.
Imagine if we approached our prayers with that spirit of grace.
Lord, teach us to pray…
to say our prayers.
to pray from our hearts.
to ask and search and knock—
and to not always be watching the clock or the calendar.
Teach us to empty ourselves of anger and disappointment and skepticism
and let our hearts be filled only
Help us to resist
trying to grab the paddles
or hurry the boatman.
Teach us to pray with hearts that say
I know you will come.
I know you will come, God.
I know you will come.