“How Should We Pray?” – 05-18-14 – Easter 5 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture – Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Hear ye! Hear ye! John 14:14 says clearly as day, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Oh dear! What does that do for interfaith community? Many of us who feel that we are Christian, end our prayers, “In the name of Jesus.” When worshiping in a community service where our Hebrew friends are part of the gathering, should we end our prayers “In the Name of Jesus?”

If we ask this question to a planning team, we would see some heads nodding “yes” and some heads shaking their heads “no.” It would be fun to watch the heads – some going up and down and some going sideways. It could look like a “wave” that never developed synchronization. Well that is how this dilemma goes.

Some of my religious friends – you know – pastors, rabbis, priests – say “Don’t water my style of religion, my beliefs!” Others of us think we could have a good spiritual experience together with “non-Jesus” people by looking for the beliefs and practices we all share. Which is it? Watered-down religion or segmenting the service into a Protestant-Christian part and a Catholic-Christian part and a Jewish part. Let’s not forget our friends of the Latter-Day-Saints who also have a different package or our friends who are Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship.

This is just way too hard for mere people to solve. Does friendship include sharing worship? Or, should worship with our non-Trinitarian friends and our “no written theology” friends be forbidden? Should we put more emphasis on the lovely mother of Jesus? Should we be really, really liberal and say anything goes; that each person receives direct messages from God not to be packaged into a creed; not to be bound with strong glue; not to be written in stone; more like moving water?

Or should our stone be something like gravel – partially unified and a very general, changeable set of beliefs? Or, do we feel best when our beliefs are set in granite and our buildings start with a cornerstone – solid, oh so very solid?

Did you know there are so many choices and limitless spots on this continuum of how we relate to God? So do we need umpteen religions in this day? We already know that in Reading and Pottstown and maybe Philadelphia and Norristown, there are churches on practically every corner. You see, there were rich people who were very concerned that their own style of faith would be continued. They built these massive churches close together because they wanted to have room and to be close enough to include every child in the city.

These churches have mostly become unmanageable financially and there is room inside for the millions of people who don’t know and don’t care what these massive, impressive buildings have on the other side of the red doors. Sprinkled between these massive churches are non-denominational churches, house churches, store-front churches where people, who are thirsty and hungry for a spiritual connection to something, are finding Jesus big time! Then on the outskirts (aka known as suburbs) we find the mega-church type – contemporary music which is to say bands instead of organ, small groups meeting during the week which do focus on Jesus – all of the focus is on Jesus. It is powerful stuff.

We have all of these choices. There’s more! There is a synagogue there somewhere. Where do the Muslims meet? Well-hidden they are in Pottstown. But they are there. Why are we not connected in more ways than a smile on the street? The Chinese meet somewhere. Where is it? How is their worship different than our typical mainline Protestant churches – you know organ music, hymns from a hymn book? Why oh why are there so many ways to be connected with God?

We could try everyone of these worship places if we are welcomed at the door. We could be so broad-minded that we would find something that seemed right to us; something that would bring us closer to God – our God of course; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as we say.

But do you recall “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Who said it? Jesus said it! Our Jesus who is part of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that Jesus! Other religions have Jesus also, but not as part of God; not part of our Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In some variations of faith, Jesus is a prophet, nothing more, nothing less. In some of our declared religions, Jesus is a mere character in history, maybe offering some wisdom in his short life, maybe not.

But to us – we who are Protestant Mainline Christians, such as the United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist and a few others probably – Jesus is not a shadow, Jesus is not a passing fad. Instead our Jesus is a rock. Imagine, a rock! In fact, he is so important in the scheme of things that he is the cornerstone of our faith in the thing called church!

So how can we water-down a granite rock. Oh you are yearning to tell me that water can erode even granite rock over time. Oh dear! You are putting a stumbling block in my symbolism here, in this metaphor. Is this the answer that God is giving for our worship and cooperation with other faiths in our community? In time will our religion become only grains of sand on a vast beach? Will the sand of Judaism and the sand of Jesus-believers and Jesus-followers and the sand of wishy-washy religions and the sand of the descendants of Ishmael (the Islamic faith of some Muslims) become a common sand around the world and in Pottstown and Philadelphia?

Let us listen, yes listen, to the words of Peter, otherwise named by Jesus as Cephas which means “The Rock.” In the first letter of Peter 2:2-10, Peter is quoting from the Old Testament where Isaiah is announcing the words of God to the Israelites in Isaiah 28:16, “Look! I am placing a stone in Zion. It is a chosen and very valuable stone. It is the most important stone in the building.” God said this through Isaiah. Even though Jesus named Peter “The Rock,” Peter does not replace Jesus as the Cornerstone.” Peter was charged with continuing the work that Jesus started but not to replace Jesus.

That mantle moves to us. The story goes that St. Peter is standing at the gates to heaven. As you may recall, Jesus handed the keys of forgiveness to Peter. So we are now the continuation of Peter and his mission. The mission is to be the church. The specifics of how the church should look in the 21st Century are missing, as in not given.

One declared specific mandate is that Christ is the sure foundation and we shall keep that in mind; that the Cornerstone that is Jesus will never erode. Never fear, we are not keeping the church alive by ourselves. The Holy Spirit weaves and moves in any congregation where Jesus is the focus of worship, of our communion with fellow worshipers, and the focus of the mission outside the building. Jesus is not just in that one piece of stone that is called Cornerstone. Jesus is not limited by material objects and substances and by human belief. Wow!

Did you hear that? Jesus is not limited by human belief. What does that mean to you? What does it mean to me? To me, it means that Jesus will be Jesus forever and ever and ever. I can choose to stand on that rock and declare that Jesus is for me. Of course, he is. Think of all the times we call on the name of Jesus in a day, in a week, in a year. I do not insist on ending or starting prayer in the name of Jesus, however to do so seems to provide for a more intimate relationship with Jesus as Jesus. I don’t feel that I am closing the door on Jesus and eliminating blessings if I pray in the name of God because Jesus is part of God.

To whom do you address your prayers – God, Father, Jesus, Holy One, Blessed One, Listening One, Jesus Christ our Savior? How do you end your prayers? Frankly, as I was being nurtured in the Mennonite faith as a child and young person, I don’t remember being instructed how to end prayers. It usually was just “Amen.”

But coming into the time of interfaith work and worship, how we end our prayers seems to be a big deal. Who is going to bow to whom? Those of us, who fear selling our souls for the sake of mission with faiths of a different flavor, are not going to bow. Bow to whom anyway? Bow to other faiths! How about the word “respect?” We have this solid rock become Cornerstone. Think about Jesus being the Cornerstone of our lives – each of us having this Cornerstone.

Psalm 31:3 gives us these words, “Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold: for the sake of your name, lead me and guide me.” In John 14:6, Jesus is saying to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” From Peter we have these words, “ … whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Do we need more? How shall we pray? Can we do interfaith work and mission or not? Can we trust that our Cornerstone will not turn to sand if we pray calling on the name of God instead of specifically Jesus? I am led to say that each person must decide this matter by asking Jesus. In Acts 7:55-60, we have the account of Stephen who was a fervent convert to being a follower of Jesus. He was a total convert. He could not be quiet about Jesus; not even when he faced persecution. Stephen was stoned to death; the first martyr for Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

We have Paul, who when called Saul, stood and watched Stephen being stoned to death. Years later, this Saul-Paul gave his own life because he was caught in this fervent mission for the church of Jesus Christ. It is believed that most of the twelve disciples died of persecution because they did not deny this Jesus but were vocal to the end, declaring that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Where am I now in this decision? Where are you in this decision? Amen