“Prayer in Rough Times”

Sermon – 07-11-21 – Proper 10 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Sermon Title: “Prayer in Rough Times”

What style life do you have? It may be straight and orderly with very few surprises, neither good or bad. Or your life may be the opposite, like a whirlwind, no two days alike, no schedule that works.

If your life is a whirlwind, especially if illness is part of the whirl, you may wish your life would be less hectic, more calm. But how do you get from whirlwind to calm and straight and orderly? Or just the reverse, if your life is calm and predictable and on schedule with your house and yard picture perfect and clean as a whistle, whatever that means, you may yearn for more excitement.

When I lived by a schedule and cleaning was a daily routine, I found myself saying to God, “Is this all there is to life?” That was a variety of prayer. It could be called complaining. When I should have been very thankful that I had a house and yard and car to keep clean and orderly, I was complaining. Now God has provided an exciting life for me. Now there is no time for cleaning and orderly anything!

Am I still complaining? My conversations with God go like this? “When are WE, meaning God and I, going to get rid of that pile or vacuum the floors?” Surprisingly, that kind of prayer has results. Soon after I pray that kind of prayer, my hands are working on the pile or my hands are untangling the vacuum cord and plugging it into electricity, that wonderful invention for which I thank God – another kind of prayer.

When your child gets that magic piece of paper or plastic in his or her hand and takes the car alone to who knows where and with whom, what kind of prayer are you praying? When our income goes from just manageable to practically nothing and the groceries cost more and more if they are even on the shelf, what kind of prayer is leaving our hearts and minds and lips. Help us, O God. Have mercy on us, O God!

If you are wondering why I am preaching about prayer when we have two awful scripture lessons and no one is praying. When things are going well and the flowers are beautiful and everyone around us is getting along well, we often forget about prayer or we remember to thank God for his goodness.

It is in the rough times when prayer spouts from our hearts and lips and we cry in agony. When a friend is beheaded, when God calls us to be a prophet, when the electricity goes off and we just filled the freezer, or someone in the house is on oxygen, when our own health goes south, or a relationship goes the same direction, these are rough times. So we take our troubles to God, the ultimate fixer of problems.

God sees things from all angles. I believe God does have a plan for each of us, a plan for us to prosper. Being human we think we know which path is best. We often pray for our desires to happen. Sometimes we pray so hard and so often that God grants us our wish just to get rid of our whining and begging. You have surely heard the saying, “Be careful for what you pray.” Yes, do be careful.

Some of us claim we pray all day, meaning that we pray on the run or while we are driving which is fine if we keep our eyes open and our mind at least half on the cars around us and the holes in the road. Some of us have a quiet time each morning. Some people keep a prayer list. If we are a whirlwind person our prayers are probably whirlwind prayers – here and there and everywhere. If we are orderly, calm, schedule persons, our prayers are that way also.

The absolute most important aspect of prayer is to listen; to sit and be quiet and free our minds. God can’t speak to us if our mind is rigid and closed. If we can tell our minds not to think, not to be busy, if we can say in our minds, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think over and over our minds become somewhat numb. Then we can hear God’s voice or a strong thought that hits our brain out of nowhere.

God often speaks to me while I am washing dishes – monotonous, monotonous. Then comes a strong thought. “Where did that come from,” I say. “Oh, God, what is that all about?” It is usually a plan to get me past a problem, something that was concerning me.”

Amos, from our Old Testament lesson today, is not washing dishes. He is a dresser of sycamore trees, whatever a dresser is, and he is a herdsman; probably something like a shepherd of cows – oh, a cowboy! He also knows about plumb lines. What is a plumb line? It is a stone tied to a string. When a person wants to build a straight wall, the builder uses this improvised tool. Do builders still use plumb lines?

Well we should use plumb lines when we pray. Are we staying on track? Is our prayer clear and sure or are we wobbly and going in circles? Well, depending on our emotional status, our prayers may rightly be vague. God wants the people of Israel to be straight and clear with total focus on God’s self. So he is taking a herdsman from Judah to the northern country of Israel to straighten the people and bring their focus on God – in line with the plumb line. Alighning ourselves with a plumb line set by God is called righteousness – we are doing right by God.

When we move to our New Testament lesson, instead of Amos from Judah, we hear about the manner of death of John the Baptist. He is the cousin of Jesus, the person who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. If you mind was not wandering, you heard me read that gruesome story. No plumb line for King Herod. His plumb line got blown by his ill-gotten wife. You see, this King Herod took his brother’s wife for his own. John the Baptist scolded King Herod for gaining his wife, Herodias, in that manner. Actually, King Herod took a liking to John the Baptist. So much so that when his wife tricked him into calling for the head of John the Baptist on a platter, King Herod was very sorry to be ordering this death. At the time of our gospel lesson this beheading was in the past. Now King Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist come alive again. Does King Herod know how to pray? To whom would he pray? Perhaps he would call on the name of God. He is in the dark about this Jesus. The plumb line of King Herod is not serving him well. It is lying on the ground where all it can do is cause someone to stumble.

Where is my plumb line? Where is your plumb line? Are our prayers righteous prayers? Are they hanging straight? Do we really want what God wants for us? Do we spend enough time praying for other people and not just for ourselves? Then again, do we know God does want us to pray for ourselves for all manner of well-being but mostly to be following the straight path, the straight line to God.

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