These magnificent but simple words capture, at least for a moment, both the greatest Graces of Christ to His Church in every age and the Reforming challenges confronting Luther and the 16th Century Reformers to the very life of the Church. Each of these gifts were either in disuse, abuse or corruption in Western Christianity. Luther, profoundly in love with His Lord and deeply committed to the Church, addressed and began reforming each of these in the course of His life. And all of Christianity and our entire world has been blessed and transformed by these 6 Reformation realities.
These Graces that create and sustain Christ’s Church are now the subject of our worship through these last days of the Church Year as they continue to guide us through our six week Stewardship emphasis in preparation for our 2017 pledges to our Lord and bring a fitting close to our 500th Reformation Year observances and celebrations at Zion.
PRAYER is the GRACE that will command our attention and hopefully deepen our personal life in Christ November 12, and, we pray, will also give a richer dimension to our worship life together in the months (and years) to come. There is, perhaps no greater measure of our spiritual life than our life in and of prayer. There is also no greater measure of the impact on our spiritual life and it’s influence upon the health of our physical, mental and emotional life than our life in and of prayer. Recent surveys of “religious practices” in the U.S. indicate that 98+% of those questioned pray on a more or less regular basis regardless of affiliation or the total lack of one. The survey also noted that a little over 8% of atheists pray. Prayer is everything from a fallback position for “those of little faith” to a power center for “those of “great faith”. But regardless of the motivation or expectation, the denomination or culture prayer seems to be a somewhat natural and universal if often little understood human need and practice.
Beginning November 12, the Elders of Zion have designated our Second Sunday Worship to be a Service devoted primarily to Prayer. The First and Third Sundays will continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the 4th Sunday will continue in the Service of Morning Prayer and Mission. However, the Second Sunday Service will provide a richer and more intentional order of our worship that will emphasize and lift up the Grace of Prayer for our growth and fulfillment. All of our worship at Zion provides for designated prayer time, however often the needs and names for special prayer together far, far exceed the time we need with our Lord, one another and those for whom we petition or with whom we rejoice on any given Sunday or week.
The second Sunday evening of each month has been for the past year at Zion a time, (5:00 – 6:00 pm) set aside and devoted exclusively to prayer for our members and congregational friends. This time in shared faith, shared need, shared thanksgiving and shared quiet beauty has been for those of us who gathered regularly also a time of growth in our shared priesthood and common care and commitment. The attendance – the Holy Spirit is little concerned with numbers but we as His people are – ranged from as few as 10 to as many as 30+. This time of “Gathering for Prayer and Healing” was perhaps sufficient to qualify as personally fulfilling, but yet left congregational involvement and fulfillment still searching for the best way for us at historic Zion (120 years young in 2018) to live out the fuller meaning of a praying people … a praying congregation.
My personal, pastoral vision was that this sacred evening hour set aside for prayer together might grow from simply our own Sunday evening prayers into an outreach into our immediate community offering invitations to our neighbors seeking God’s presence in any personal needs that we – as good neighbors –might include for them in our Sunday evening(s) … Just call the church office and we will gladly and faithfully bring you and your requests together in our prayers. However what has become, once again, obvious for us is the simple El Paso geography that our Zion “neighborhood” extends from Las Cruces to Horizon City and from Hueco Tanks to Santa Theresa … and that as our Congregation gathers from these four corners on Sunday Morning, a second gathering in the evening becomes extremely difficult.
The obvious need for a deeper, more intentional, more fulfilling life of prayer may not be obvious in a fast food, fast paced, fast family, fast attentioned world … We even have “fast prayers” … “Come Lord Jesus” … “Now I lay me” … “Our Father” … But the much deeper, richer, fulfilling relationship with our heavenly Father in natural, normal, intentional prayer may go wanting for lack of time, attention, importance, faith or maturity. And our prayers are still at an 8 year old or 8th Grade Confirmation level … handy, but not very helpful. Whether a “Second Sunday” set aside for a growing life in prayer and a growing life in Christ is part of “an answer to prayer” …?
However we do know, as Saint Paul teaches us, that prayer as a grace of the Holy Spirit has dimensions we can only begin to imagine and answers that remain for eternity to reveal. He writes in Romans 8, We know too that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us in language too deep for words. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people according to His will. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-28
And if you have this life in prayer pretty well figured out and little else to learn or experience about prayer, here’s a “Footnote to All Prayers” written by the British author and teacher, C.S. Lewis (and atheist until age 40, because of the tragedies of the bloody life surrounding him) perhaps one of the greatest Christian minds and apostles of the previous century.
He to whom I bow (in prayer) alone knows to whom I really bow
When I attempt the divine Name to speak, murmuring “Thou”
And long for the artist’s vision to embrace in heart
Symbols that I know cannot grasp that which “Thou” most truly art.
Thus always – taken at the human word – all prayers must “blaspheme”
Worshiping with such frail images a far, fantastic dream.
And all men in their praying, half self-deceived address
The murmurs of their own unquiet thoughts unless
“Thou” in magnetic mercy to “Thyself” our prayers dost bend
Our arrows aimed so unskillfully toward some long hoped for end;
For all men are idolaters, crying loudly yet unheard
To a deaf idol, if “Thou” but take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our transient literal sense. Lord in Thy great
Eternal word our limping metaphors translate. -C.S. Lewis
“We may not always know God’s will, but in Christ, we always know the Gospel”. God willing, see you for PRAYER, November 12, 10:30 am. –Pastor Patten