In Paul’s Letter to the Romans we heard today Saint Paul says, among many other things, we must “persevere in prayer”. I am not sure I would choose the word ‘persevere’ as it connotes a struggle and I would like to think our prayer life is much more than that. However, if Paul means we should continually grow in our prayer life I would heartily agree. This sermon is about prayer, in particular healing prayer, but first …
Let me tell you a little story, a little fable. The story is called the Obedient Man. An obedient man came to a teacher and said that he wanted to become a good person in the sight of God. The man asked the teacher to show him the book of rules so that he may lead such a life. The teacher said, “There is no book of rules pre se, but there is the book of God and it is a Holy book and we call it the Bible”. The Obedient Man said, “What does it tell me to do”? The teacher said that it does contain laws that we are to do our best live by, but that the point of the Bible is to read it so that we can engage with the story and in so doing we can find meaning in our lives, and at the same time connect with God and find out what God’s plan is for us. The Obedient Man looked puzzled and asked the teacher to give him an example.
The teacher said, “As a Christian we follow the teachings of this man called Jesus”. The Obedient Man interrupted the teacher and said, “That sounds like rules to me, just give them to me and I’ll be on my way”. The teacher retorted, “No, it’s not like that. For example we learn to love all other people including our enemies. He continued, ”It is not like a test where you stop at a stop sign and that is it – there is much more to it. It is not as if you walk down the street and in a superficial way just say to everyone ‘I love you’. You have to think about how this teaching applies to your life in the here and now and how you can genuinely help others by loving them in a way that you did not do before. You have to, in a sense, push yourself to love others, as you have never done before. It is not about just following rules; it is about a way of life and how we live that life and how God constantly leads us and how we interpret, even day to day, what God is saying to us. It is about walking with God in your journey of life and in so doing your conversation with God causes you to think about yourself and what you are all about, and in the process thinking about how you can bring God’s love to all others”. The Obedient Man thought about this for a while and then asked the teacher his name. The teacher said, “My name is Jesus. Follow me and I will show you the way”. The Obedient Man became a Disciple and started to learn the way of God’s love.
Human beings are endlessly complex and God is complex beyond even our imagination – how then do we connect? In the story I just told you the man originally just wants ‘to become a good person in the sight of God’ and therefore all he feels he needs is the book of rules that will allow him to do just that. What Jesus says to the man, and to all of us in the Gospels, is that God is not looking at us from a distance and judging us on this or that thing we do. Jesus is saying to us that our connection with God is not two dimensional or superficial or so distant that it scarcely matters. Jesus is saying our connection with God is right now, it is right here and it matters a great deal because of the love God has for each one of us; it matters a great deal because it is personal. And just like a personal relationship, and that is just what it is, our connection with God can be at times complicated and seemingly confusing just as it can be tender, caring and immediate.
So how do we exactly connect with God? The best way, the way that the Bible teaches us, is through prayer. When we pray we are in connection with God. This leads us to the next obvious question, how do we pray? The best answer to that question that I can give is this: there are many forms of prayer and there is no wrong way to pray. I shall pause for a moment to let that sink in and then I shall repeat it for emphasis. There are many forms of prayer and there is no wrong way to pray.
In conversations I have had over the years a great many people have told me that they have a hard time praying because, as they say, “I don’t know how to pray”. When I delve further into this the person invariably tells me that they think prayer should be formal or structured or formulaic and that they don’t know where to start. To repeat, there is no wrong way to pray. As I have told some of you my favorite prayer starts like this, “Hi God, it’s me”, and I just go on from there. What Saint Paul is saying in the Romans reading today is absolutely correct, God is in one-way or another a part of us; our connection to God is immediate, it is profound and it is personal. God knows our prayer even before we pray it, but we pray it anyway because we want that connection with God, and God, who loves us beyond all measure, wants that connection as well. The God that created you really does want that connection so do try and take the time, try and make the time to talk to God in the way that best fits you. Perhaps even dare yourself to go outside of your comfort zone and find a closer connection with God.
As I mentioned there are many kinds of prayer and today I would like to focus on Healing Prayer. Let us take a look at what healing prayer is and why I think it is so important. Healing prayer is a corporate prayer, that is to say it is prayer done in a group. Typically healing prayer involves two or three people who are the facilitators and one other person who asks the facilitators to pray for them or someone else in their life. The person asking for the prayer names what is it or who it is they would like to pray about and then all form a circle and lay hands on one another. The laying on of hands is an ancient Christian tradition going back to when Jesus laid hands upon the disciples and commissioned them to go out into the world and heal. Once in the circle one of the facilitators leads the prayer. The prayer may be as long or as short as the facilitator feels is necessary. At the end the ‘amen’ is said and the circle opens up and the prayer is over.
Why do I think healing prayer is important? Let me tell you a quick and true story about my self. I was lucky enough to be in New York City attending church at St Bartholomew’s on a Sunday in the summer before I was to start my seminary studies at VST. I had never taken the opportunity of involving myself in healing prayer before and I think it was largely due to the fact that I was a bit shy about the whole thing. But as I was waiting to receive Communion I saw the people lining up for healing prayer and I felt very compelled to go and, as it were, check it out. I went over and at St Bartholomew’s you had to kneel down in front of a priest to get your healing prayer. I did so and the Priest asked me what I wished to pray for. I mentioned that I was becoming a Priest myself and that I was starting my studies in the fall and I would like him to pray for my courage and strength in that endeavor. He laid his hands on my shoulders and began to pray. It was one of the most amazing prayers I have ever heard. He took his time and in a very beautiful and touching way invoked God to be with me to help me on my journey and to support me when the times got tough. I shall always remember it. When it was over I felt renewed and strengthened in a way I was most assuredly not expecting. I am very glad I stepped outside of my own comfort zone that day and made that connection with God.
Healing prayer is important because sometimes we need to share our concerns with others who will carefully hold up those concerns to God with their love and in a voice different than our own. God will of course hear us when we pray alone, but healing prayer adds the dimension of the group, the community that cares about you and can express their desire for your wellbeing before God. That is why I would like to start a formal Healing Prayer group here at St John’s.
It is to be sure an ancient tradition in our church and one that has lasted because it enriches our connection to God and can be a very healing and helpful instrument on our journey. If you have ever felt that you might be called to healing prayer ministry as a facilitator please do come and talk to me as we could use your skills in this regard. Either way, please do think carefully and prayerfully about how you might make healing prayer a part of your life here at St John’s.
Clearly, what better way to end this sermon than with prayer. Let us pray. Hi God, it’s me. Before you are all of us who have come here to St John’s today to worship you and find the connection that you so very much want with us. Well, here we are. We open our hearts and our minds to you as you open and make known your love for us. We love you and ask that you guide us and help us to love all others, as you want us to do. In all things we thank you for our life, for the beauty of your world and for the love we feel that surrounds us. Finally we thank you for Jesus your Son who shows us the way to you and in whose name we pray. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney